Verlander Stunned, Thumbed, Bummed

Verlander: Not his night
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
If the Astros somehow manage not to win the American League West this year, Seattle's James Paxton can take credit in it. The crafty lefty is 4-0 in four starts against Houston this year, including an 8-6 win Thursday in the opener of a four-game weekend series at Minute Maid which represents, in a way, the Mariners' last chance to wrest the title away from the Champs. A sweep gets them right back in the race. Anything less makes the climb back very steep.

The M's entered the contest as if they understood this and opened a beatdown on ace righthander Justin Verlander. They used a homer by Mitch Haniger to key a three-run first inning then plated three more in the second on home runs by Denard Span and Jean Segura.

During that frame, Haniger doubled and appeared to be picked off second base by Verlander when a balk was called negating the pickoff and advancing Haniger to third. While Verlander did not act upset, it must have bothered him because he allowed homers to Span and Segura after that and yelled something intolerable from the dugout between innings which prompted his ejection.

Paxton wasn't his sharpest either although it hardly mattered. Marwin Gonzalez plated two in the third to make the score 6-2. The Mariners answered with two in the sixth before Tony Kemp poked a two-run single to pull Houston within 8-4. Tyler White added an RBI double and a solo homer in the late innings to account for the final two tallies.

Haniger ended with a four-hit night while Span and Segura were close behind with three hits each as five Houston relievers split up seven innings of work. Paxton allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks in 5-2/3rd innings. Edwin Diaz notched save number 43.

Kemp earned three of Houston's nine hits to raise his season batting average back up to .300.

Seattle crept back within seven games of first while idle Oakland edged within 4-1/2 games. The second game of the series will be Friday night when Mike Leake (8-7) goes up against Gerrit Cole (10-4) in a 7:10 pm Central contest. Leake is 0-2 in two starts against Houston this year while Cole is 1-1, including a loss in Seattle in late July.

Off the field, it was announced that Jose Altuve would sit this weekend while rehabbing his knee. He had made an unscheduled flight back to Houston from Los Angeles this weekend to have doctors examine the progress on his injury.

- Bob Hulsey