SEATTLE--Michael Saunders may not have won the battle with Houston reliever Tony Sipp, but he won the race.
And Saunders' ability to beat out a slow grounder to second with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning Thursday night proved the difference as the Mariners beat the Houston Astros 3-1 in front of 13,836 at Safeco Field.
The score was tied at 1-1 and the Mariners appeared on the verge of blowing a bases-loaded no-outs situation when Saunders grounded a full-count pitch to second.
Houston first baseman Jesus Guzman cut it off and tossed the ball to Sipp with the left-handed hitting Saunders beating it fast down the line.
As each converged on first, Saunders slid his left foot into the bag as Sipp took a higher step with his right foot, which proved to be just a split-second too late.
Dustin Ackley, who started the rally with a single to right, scored easily and Stefan Romero, who also had singled, was running on the pitch and came in soon after.
That proved enough as the Mariners shut down the Houston offense other than a homer to lead off the game from Jose Altuve off Seattle starter Roenis Elias.
Reliever Dominic Leone pitched a perfect 12/3 innings to get the first win of his major league career as the Mariners improved to 23-23 in what was the first game of a season-long 11-game homestand.
Elias did a lot of dancing with danger early, but managed to emerge relatively unharmed,
Altuve hit Elias' first pitch of the game for a home run, and when Elias walked the next batter, Dexter Fowler, the crowd murmured uncomfortably.
But in what became a trend, Elias retired the next three batters to get out of it.
In the second and third innings, Houston's first two batters again reached base. But each time, Elias retired the next three batters to keep the score tied.
Elias, though, needed 60 pitches to get through three innings. And while he settled into a nice groove from there, he was pulled with one out in the sixth after walking Chris Carter on his 100th pitch.
The Mariners tied it in the bottom of the first when rookie James Jones walked, then moved to third on an expertly-placed hit-and-run single to right by Saunders. Jones, who later in the game would get a single to extend his hitting streak to 12 games, then scored on sacrifice fly to medium center. Evidence of Jones' speed, though, Houston's Dexter Fowler didn't even bother to attempt a throw home.
Ackley led off the seventh with a hard-hit drive to right to start the Seattle rally, followed by another by Romero.
Nick Franklin was ordered to bunt the runners over. But there proved no need when Cosart bounced a 2-0 pitch in front of the plate, allowing each to advance.
Franklin then walked to load the bases.
Catcher Mike Zunino struck out, though, on what proved to be the final batter for Cosart.
That brought in Sipp, who had retired all 20 batters he had faced coming into the night, 11 via strikeout.
And that compelled Mariner manager Lloyd McClendon to call on Cole Gillespie, who had not had an at-bat since May 12, to pinch-hit for the lefty-swinging Jones.
That looked like an ominous decision when Gillespie popped up to first on a 3-1 pitch.
Saunders then worked the count to 3-2 after Sipp threw two straight pitches into the dirt.
Then came the full-count pitch and Saunders' sprint to first. He needed every inch of his 6-4 frame to beat it out against the 6-foot Sipp. The play was reviewed, but showed conclusively that Saunders had indeed gotten there first.
Relievers Yoervis Medina and Fernando Rodney held Houston in check from there.
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