SEATTLE – Coming out of the All-Star break riding a 14-game winning streak and looking to make a statement against the American League West leaders, the up-and-coming Mariners were anything but. A road bump for the relentless Astros.
The Astros extended their division lead to four games in four days coming off the break with a doubleheader sweep of the Yankees on Thursday in Houston before entering T-Mobile Park and ruining Seattle’s party. Houston clinched the series, Sunday’s 8-5 win, which moved the Mariners within 13 games of the first-place Astros.
“[The Mariners] cut the lead to 14 in a row before the [All-Star] break and maybe the break hurt them, and it definitely helped us regroup and get our stuff together,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. . “We just have to keep playing.”
Improving to an AL-best 27-8 since June 14, including 19-5 since June 28, the Astros have tied the 2017 championship club for their best record at 96 games (64-32) and are on pace to win the club. – Record 108 games. They remain 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the best record in the AL and own the tiebreaker.
“These three wins are huge for us,” said Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who hit a leadoff homer. “They were playing really well. They’re still playing well, but [it was] a really good three games against them. It’s always good to win games against teams in your division and it gives us some momentum to keep winning games. We take it one game at a time, but it was good to win these last five games.”
The Astros have not trailed at any point in their five wins since the All-Star break, leading the opposition in 42 of 45 innings. Altuve opened two of the three wins over Seattle with leadoff homers, giving him six leadoff homers on the road this year to quiet the crowd.
“We got the win. They executed. They made the pitches. They made the plays. They got timely hits. And that’s why they won the series,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
Altuve clubbed the first pitch of the game from Mariners starter Robbie Ray, which sailed 409 feet over the left-field wall. Rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena followed with a homer to take a quick 2-0 lead. The Astros held Ray — the 2021 AL Cy Young winner — to six runs and 10 hits in three innings.
“Obviously, homers are good for every hitter in every situation,” Altuve said. “I feel like starting the game, you kind of set the tone for the guys, but I think Jeremy’s homer was even better because it really set the tone for the other hitters, and to start the game, 2-0, is really good for us.”
Pitching has kept the Astros where they are this year, and they got another solid effort Sunday from All-Star left-hander Framber Valdez (9-4). He made his 16th consecutive quality start, allowing three runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings for Seattle.
Astros closer Ryan Pressley returned from paternity list and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 20th save, tying the club record 28 consecutive batters retired as a reliever and now tied for 30th. He has 10 consecutive perfect one-innings. outing under his belt.
“We were trying to get [Valdez] into the seventh and give Pressley a day to get acclimated, but we had to call him into service today and he was good,” Baker said. “He [retired] the  hit streak record. I congratulated him after the game, but he said, ‘For what?’ If he didn’t know, I wouldn’t tell him.”
Presley is well aware of his record, but said, “When you’re out there, you don’t really think about it. You’re just trying to get three outs and do what you can.”
With the trade deadline approaching, the Astros will be in position to add some players to increase their chances for October. That’s bad news for the rest of the AL based on the juggernaut that roared through Seattle this weekend.
“It’s good to go this route, but we can’t get discouraged now, because we’re going to Oakland,” Baker said.