Willie Bloomquist doesn’t get many at-bats. But one he had Sunday in the third inning at Minute Maid Park sparked a four-run splurge at the expense of Collin McHugh and sent the Mariners on their way to another fingernail-chewing victory over the Houston Astros, the worst team in the major leagues when they don’t play the Mariners.
With Bloomquist’s igniter and reserve catcher John Buck delivering his best in a Seattle uniform, the Mariners won for the fourth time in five games on this three-city road trip. They have also taken seven of their past nine overall and are a game under .500 (14-15) after staggering through an eight-game losing streak (April 15-22).
The Mariners, 9-9 away from Safeco Field, haven’t been this close to .500 since April 17 when they were 7-8. The 17 runs scored by Seattle Saturday and Sunday are the most in back-to-back games since the Mariners tallied 18 against the Angels in the first two of the season.
After Robinson Cano gave Seattle a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly in the first following Michael Saunders’ seventh hit in 14 at-bats as a leadoff hitter, Bloomquist followed a Dustin Ackley walk and Buck double with a two-run double of his own for a 3-1 lead.
“(McHugh) has some good stuff, but we made some adjustments,” Bloomquist told Root Sports. “In that situation, I’m just battling. I got a pitch I was able to handle and found a hole.”
Cano followed with the first triple of his Seattle career, plating Bloomquist. The Mariners eventually stretched their lead to 7-2 before the Astros began chipping away, closing to within 7-4, 8-4, 8-6 and, finally, 8-7 in the ninth.
“We get the ice cream today, a couple of scoops to be sure,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “We put together some good at-bats out there and had some purpose to what we were doing. The guys have swung the bats well the last couple of days.”
The Mariners made relatively short work of McHugh, who threw a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts at Safeco Field April 22. McHugh lasted four innings Sunday, allowing six earned runs on eight hits. He fanned four.
“This time we had better at-bats against McHugh than we did the last time,” said McClendon. “We gave him some stressful at-bats.”
Seattle starter Brandon Maurer (1-0) allowed two runs in the fourth, but the Mariners tacked on single runs in the fourth, fifth and eighth innings to take series 2-1.
Maurer didn’t have a great outing, lasting only five innings while allowing two home runs, to Alex Presley in the second and Jonathan Villar in the fifth. But he collected the victory, his first of the season, even though his ERA rose from 6.75 to 6.92.
“It was a battle for Maurer, but I saw some fortitude and guts,” McClendon added. “He came through and I think he learned something today.”
After Maurer departed with a 7-4 lead, Tom Wilhelmsen threw two innings of scoreless relief. But Charlie Furbush allowed two runs without an out before McClendon yanked him in favor of Danny Farquhar.
Batting at the top of the lineup for the fourth time this season, Saunders went 2-for-5 and is 8-for-18 with two doubles and four RBIs in that slot. Filling in for Mike Zunino, Buck had three hits, including his first two doubles as a Mariner, drove in a run and scored twice.
Farquhar pitched two innings, notching his first save, because closer Fernando Rodney was unavailable Sunday.
After the game, the Mariners optioned former leadoff hitter Abraham Almonte to AAA Tacoma. They have yet to make a move to replace him on the major league roster. McClendon was unusually candid when asked why he held Almonte out of Saturday’s lineup: “He’s sitting, because it’s not working,” McClendon said. “It’s that simple. He’s not playing because he’s not producing.” Almonte, 4-for-37 in his last 10, did not start Sunday, but entered as a pinch runner in the ninth and stole his third base of the season. He then learned that he was Tacoma-bound. . . . Cano had two more hits, lifting his average to .293 . . . Corey Hart broke an 0-for-8 slide with an RBI single in the third.
NEXT: The Mariners begin a four-game set in Oakland Monday night that includes a doubleheader Wednesday when the teams play the makeup game for the April 4 rainout. RHP Chris Young (1-0, 3.04) will work for Seattle opposite Scott Kazmir (4-0, 2.11).