The speed of Michael Saunders ran the Mariners’ record up to .500 as he delivered the deciding runs in a 3-1 win over Houston Thursday at Safeco Field. With the bases loaded and two outs in a 1-1 tie in the seventh, Saunders sent a slow two-hopper to the right side that looked to be the third out.
The chopper was far enough to the right of the bag that Houston first baseman Jesus Guzman had to rely on reliever Tony Sipp to cover. He caught the flip toss, but Saunders raced up the line and stabbed the bag with his sliding left foot a mere moment ahead of Sipp.
Dustin Ackley scored from third and Stefen Romero, running on a full count, scored from second, giving Seattle (23-23) a 3-1 lead. Yoervis Medina struck out the side in the eighth and closer Fernando Rodney picked up his 12th save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
“I kinda got out of stride with my right foot,” Saunders said. “I knew that the only chance I had . . . if I lifted my foot I wasn’t going to be safe, so I just tried to slide (the foot). I wasn’t even sure if I was going to reach the base or not. But it worked out.
“Ackley did an incredible job leading off the inning, then (Romero), (Nick) Franklin worked a nice walk. All I did was hit the ball soft and run. Those were the guys that really got the inning going.”
Roenis Elias (3-3, 3.68 ERA) earned a no-decision. He worked 5.1 innings while overcoming command problems. He allowed three hits, three walks and one run on Jose Altuve’s home run on the game’s first pitch, his third career leadoff homer.
Elias settled down after an uncomfortable first 12 hitters, taking more than 60 pitches to get through the first three innings. Over the next 2.1 innings, Elias retired 10 consecutive batters until Chris Carter walked on his 100th pitch. Elias struck out six and was replaced by Dominic Leone.
“He didn’t have his command,” McClendon said of his starter. “Kinda settled down a little bit in the fifth . . . He’s a confident young man. I was worried about my bullpen more than anything, trying to maneuver and get to a point where we could use our bullpen and not stretch him out too much.”
Leone earned his first career win after 1.2 scoreless innings with two strikeouts and one hit.
The work of Elias and Leone gave the offense the time it needed to wrangle up some baserunners against the Jarred Cosart (3-4 4.39 ERA), who kept the Mariners off balance with a mid-90s fastball and good curve.
“His heater gets on you, it doesn’t play like a normal 94, 95 . . . has a little natural cut to it,” Saunders said of Cosart. “We got ourselves into a lot of hitter’s counts, but just couldn’t come up with the big hit with runners on. He’s got great stuff.”
Cosart came in sporting a 1.54 ERA against the M’s in two career outings since his call-up last July. The M’s put a run across in the first inning on Robinson Cano’s sacrifice fly that scored James Jones to tie, but managed just two more hits through six innings.
That changed in the seventh. Ackley and Romero opened the inning with consecutive singles off Cosart. After Franklin walked to load the bases, the Astros retired Mike Zunino and pinch-hitter Cole Gillespie between the efforts of Cosart and Sipp.
That brought Saunders out to face Sipp, who retired all 21 batters he faced since making his Houston debut May 2, something that hadn’t been done in the major leagues since Colorado’s Tim Harikkala in 2004.
Saunders fell behind 0-2 before working the count full. The payoff pitch was a cutter running away from Saunders, who did his best to put the ball in play. The bang-bang play at first was upheld upon review.
“Off the bat, I hit it so soft that I knew there was a possible chance (to beat it out),” Saunders said. ”(Sipp) broke off the mound a little bit late, from that point on I knew it was a foot race.”
Saunders was 2-for-4 with two RBI to lead the Mariners. Romero, getting the start at designated hitter, went 2-for-3 with a walk to break an 0-for-12 streak.
Cano extended his on-base streak to 29 games with a seventh-inning intentional walk . . . Jones extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a third-inning single . . . 1B/OF Logan Morrison (hamstring) will embark on a minor-league rehab assignment Friday with AAA Tacoma. It is expected that Morrison will use the full 20-day allotment . . . LHP James Paxton (lat strain) came away from a side session Thursday in good health and is scheduled to make his first rehab start with AAA Tacoma Saturday . . . RHP Taijuan Walker (shoulder impingement) will throw a three-inning simulated game of around 55 pitches Friday.