HOUSTON – A little cheating by shortstop Brad Miller will go down as an undervalued component of this otherwise dullest of victories by his team.
The Mariners beat a terrible Houston Astros squad for a third straight night on Saturday, 3-1, despite doing next-to-nothing after the first inning. But among few positives to be found, outside of capitalizing just enough against an opponent on pace for 109 losses, was Miller using some advance positioning to make two key plays that might have altered the game’s result.
“I think that’s a constant thing, just trying to be in tune with the game,’’ Miller said of positioning himself closer to where the balls were hit. “And you take any little advantage you can get just by watching. We’ve played these guys a little bit. I’m just trying to make plays, I guess. But that’s part of the learning process, for sure.’’
The Mariners used three soft singles and two walks to do all their scoring in the first inning off Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, then managed just three singles the rest of the game. Still, it was enough to beat the Astros, who managed just an unearned run off Joe Saunders in the fourth and were denied a chance at more by Miller’s glove.
Miller in that inning ranged deep in the hole to his right to prevent a Cody Clark grounder from heading into left field. Had that happened, a runner already on second base, Jake Elmore, likely would have scored and narrowed Seattle’s lead to just a run.
Instead, the 3-1 lead held up and it was still that score with one on and one out in the bottom of the eighth. That’s when Elmore grounded a ball to Miller’s right that he ranged for before making a twisting, off-balance throw to second to nab the lead runner.
Instead of two on with one out, the Astros had one on and two out and Yoervis Medina soon pitched out of trouble. Danny Farquhar survived a leadoff walk in the ninth, but saved the win for Saunders.
Saunders put a plethora of runners on early, but made pitches when he had to the first three innings. Then, up 3-0 in the fourth with runners at the corners and one out, the Mariners had Elmore picked off first base only to see second baseman Nick Franklin drop a relay throw.
That allowed the lead runner at third to trot on home and Saunders pitched out of further trouble with help from Miller’s play on the Clark grounder.
“That was huge,’’ Saunders said of Miller’s play. “I was trying to keep the ball on the ground for most of the night. They’ve got some guys that can hurt you so I was trying to use the sinker as well as I could to try to keep them off balance.
“And for him (Miller) to make that play and pick us up was huge.’’
Saunders has been victimized in prior games by balls up the middle that have eluded Miller and Franklin, the team’s two rookie infielders. And in this game, the lone Houston run scored on the Franklin drop.
“I think there’s a full moon when I pitch,’’ Saunders said. “Because there’s some crazy (expletive) going on in my games. It was nice to get a ‘W’.’’
Saunders was visibly displeased when manager Eric Wedge pulled him with two on and one out in the sixth. His pitch count was at a manageable 86.
“Yeah, I wasn’t happy,” he said. “ I wasn’t happy with coming out of the game, but honestly, I’m never happy with coming out of the game. I thought I had a lot left in the tank. But he’s the manager for a reason. He makes those decisions.’’
Wedge wasn’t too happy with anything his team did despite a third straight win.
“We had opportunities,’’ he said. “I mean, we played sloppy baseball in the second half of the baseball game. We had opportunities offensively, we misplayed some balls defensively. But in the end, we won the ballgame.’’