SEATTLE – Lance McCullers threw a breaking ball right where he wanted it. Only one problem. Robinson Cano put it right where he wanted it, about eight rows up in the center-field seats.
Just like that, the Astros were down 1-0 to the Mariners in the first inning. McCullers retired the next hitter to end the inning.
Actually, he would retire 18 of the final 19 batters he faced, allowing only a fifth-inning walk while striking out 11 Seattle hitters in leading Houston to a 4-1 victory at Safeco Field.
“Those guys can really bang,’’ McCullers said of the Mariners. “That's a great hitting team, so maybe they bring out the best in me.”
McCullers is 6-2 with a 2.75 ERA in nine career starts against the Mariners, and 3-0 in his last four starts against Seattle, including 35 strikeouts in the last 28 innings.
“Lance was in command tonight,’’ said Astros catcher Brian McCann, who broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer off reliever Dan Altavilla in the sixth inning. “Lance kept them off balance and his breaking ball was tough to hit.”
Except for that one breaking ball in the first inning that Cano launched into the stands.
“I actually thought it was going to hit the dirt before he swung at it,’’ McCullers said. “But that’s Robbie. He’s one of the great hitters of our era. He barely swung at it and hit it 400 feet.”
The Astros (11-7) had lost five of their last six games entering Tuesday night and the Mariners (9-6) had won five of their last six.
This four-game series, now notched at 1-1, is important to the Mariners. It’s an early gauge on how they stack up against the defending World Series champs, a team that beat Seattle 14 out of 19 matchups last season.
Seattle pitcher Ariel Miranda, making his first start of the season, allowed only one run in five innings despite being in trouble most of the game. He pitched out of a base-loaded jam in two innings. The Astros stranded nine runners in the five innings Miranda pitched.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch was happy to see McCullers pitch well after giving up eight runs in one inning at Minnesota last week.
‘Tonight was a great display of pitching,’’ Hinch said of McCullers. “It was a dominant performance, especially the way he bounced back from the home run. The Mariners are a strong hitting team, so you have to create some of your own outs. Lance was a real pitcher tonight.”