HOUSTON — In the aftermath of their extra-inning victory over the Astros on Monday night, several Seattle Mariners crowded around a clubhouse television and enjoyed watching the highlights of the Yankees-Blue Jays skirmish earlier that evening, a lighthearted moment that partially revealed their relaxed nature down the stretch.
Following a slump that included 10 losses in 12 games closing August and bleeding into September, Mariners manager Scott Servais took measures to keep the club loose with tactics that were part original ideas, part inspiration from the motivational ploys of others.
Despite a loss to the Astros (83-75) on Tuesday night, the Mariners (83-74) remain in the hunt for a postseason berth.
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“The season is so long that if you sit there and grind every day after every day you just run out of gas,” Servais said. “And I think we've created enough distractions and kept it fun and light that even when we weren't playing well guys still enjoyed coming to the ballpark.
“We have a close-knit group that like hanging out with each other. I think that's carried us and kept it interesting and kept us afloat when a lot of people wanted to write us off. And rightfully so. It looked like we were dead in the water, but we hung in there.”
Left-hander James Paxton (5-7, 3.72 ERA) will start the series finale for the Mariners. Paxton is 0-2 with a 4.74 ERA over three career starts against the Astros.
In his only start at Minute Maid Park, Paxton allowed two runs on five hits and two walks while recording seven strikeouts over seven innings in a no-decision on April 30, 2015. In two starts against Houston this season, Paxton is 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA.
Astros right-hander Doug Fister (12-12, 4.42 ERA) will make his eighth career start against the organization that selected him in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. Fister is 4-2 with a 4.64 ERA against Seattle, including 2-2 with a 6.86 ERA in four starts this season.
The Astros got a boost on Tuesday night from the return of rookie third baseman Alex Bregman, whose pinch-single in the sixth inning pulled the Astros even at 4-4 and keyed a six-run frame that resulted in an 8-4 win over Seattle ace Felix Hernandez.
Bregman suffered a right hamstring injury on Sept. 14 and was slated to miss 4-6 weeks, essentially the remainder of the regular season. He proved to be a fast healer and then, when the Astros desperately needed it, a clutch performer.
“He's Alex Bregman,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He's sort of never out of an at-bat. His competitiveness, his readiness, he's been bouncing off the walls trying to get back in the game. He almost couldn't hold back his smile how good he felt. Now who knows when you go up there? There is a little bit of an unknown when you haven't had an at-bat for a couple weeks. But he's put some good work in the cage, he's obviously prepared and ready. He's got a youthful energy to him.”