HOUSTON — The Seattle Mariners are feeling pretty good after beating Houston All-Stars Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole on consecutive nights.
Still, they know they have a lot more work to do as they chase their first playoff berth since 2001.
"We came here and wanted to start playing some better games and that's what we've done," manager Scott Servais said. "We're just playing better baseball right now and the top of the lineup has been really swinging the bat well."
Nelson Cruz hit a tiebreaking two-run double in a three-run eighth inning to lift the Mariners a 5-2 victory over the Astros on Friday night.
Houston leads the AL West and Seattle is 2 1/2 games behind Oakland for the second wild-card spot.
Mitch Haniger doubled with one out in the eighth, and Denard Span singled to chase Cole (10-5). The double by Haniger was his fifth extra-base hit in the last two games after he doubled in the sixth Friday and had two doubles and a homer Thursday.
Cole was replaced by Ryan Pressly, whose first pitch plunked Jean Segura on the top of his left hand. Cruz then smashed a ball off the wall in left-center to score Haniger and Span and make it 4-2. The Mariners tacked on a run when Segura scored on a groundout by Kyle Seager.
"They've got a really good club," Servais said. "You've got to pitch them really well, you've got to keep them down because you know it's going to be tight ball games here and we got some big hits late."
Seattle starter Mike Leake allowed eight hits and two runs in six innings. Adam Warren (1-1) allowed one hit in a scoreless seventh for the win and Edwin Diaz struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 44th save.
Cole yielded six hits and four runs in 7 1/3 innings for his season-high third straight loss.
The Astros had trouble stringing hits together until Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler White hit consecutive singles with no outs in the fifth inning. Martin Maldonado then reached on a fielder's choice that left Gonzalez out at home.
Tony Kemp's single to center field with two outs scored White to make it 1-0. Alex Bregman followed with an RBI double to push the lead to 2-0 before Carlos Correa grounded out to end the inning and leave Kemp stranded at third. Correa was 0 for 3 in his return after missing more than a month with a sore lower back.
Cole sailed through the first five innings, retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced with the only baserunner coming on a double by Cruz to start the second inning. He'd sat down 12 straight when Cameron Maybin singled to start the sixth inning. Cole then walked Dee Gordon on four pitches before a double by Haniger scored Maybin to cut the lead to 2-1.
Span's single sent Gordon home to tie it up. There were two outs in the inning when center fielder Jake Marisnick made a spectacular diving catch to rob Seager of a hit and keep the game tied. Marisnick sailed through the air and snagged the ball just inches from the grass to end the inning. Cole extended both hands into the air and cheered after seeing the catch before putting his glove on his head and shaking it in relief.
"Off the bat I didn't see it great, and then I was able to get there and stretch out and save a couple of runs there for Gerrit," Marisnick said.
Marisnick was injured running the bases on a double in the seventh inning. The team said Marisnick, who is filling in at center field for an injured George Springer, left the game with discomfort in his left groin.
"I don't know how he's doing, but I've been on the field for too many injuries lately, so I am not very optimistic," manager A.J. Hinch said.
Mariners: Segura said his hand was sore from being hit by the pitch on Friday night but that X-rays were negative. He said he hoped to play on Saturday but would know more after he takes batting practice.
Astros: Hinch said 2B Jose Altuve (sore right knee) is making progress, but won't return during this homestand, which runs through Wednesday. Altuve, the reigning AL MVP, hasn't played since July 25.
OFFENSE HEATING UP
The Mariners have scored five or more runs in three straight games for the first time since June 5-7. Before the start of this streak Seattle had eclipsed four runs just once in nine games.
Houston's Charlie Morton (12-2, 2.81 ERA) opposes Seattle left-hander Wade LeBlanc (6-2, 3.81) when the series continues on Saturday night. Morton struck out eight in seven innings in his last start to give him a career-high 167 strikeouts this season.