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Astros' Oberholtzer shuts out Mariners

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- As Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer and his mound counterpart, Seattle right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, plowed through their opposing lineups, it became a matter of which would blink first.

With Iwakuma approaching an innings threshold, Oberholtzer didn't blink at all, and Houston rewarded him by rallying for two runs in the eighth inning of a 2-0 victory over the Mariners Sunday at Minute Maid Park.

With the win, the Astros (45-91) snapped a five-game losing skid and salvaged the finale of this four-game series with the Mariners (62-74).

Oberholtzer (4-1) surrendered three hits and one walk over his first eight innings, allowing just one runner into scoring position. Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak walked to open the third inning and advanced to third when shortstop Brad Miller singled with two outs.

When Oberholtzer returned to the mound in the ninth, he was bathed by a rousing ovation from the crowd of 17,203. He surrendered a one-out single to third baseman Kyle Seager but retired Kendrys Morales and Franklin Gutierrez en route to his first career complete-game shutout. His four-hitter featured only singles. He walked one and struck out five.

"It feels good," Oberholtzer said of his shutout "My last couple (starts) weren't that strong, but I knew there was more in me. I worked hard this week trying to bring it out. So it feels good to get this under our belt. A great team win and I can't thank these guys enough for how well they played behind me."

Iwakuma entered his 29th start of the season having logged 184 innings. He worked seven scoreless innings on Sunday, and Houston responded to his departure by greeting reliever Charlie Furbush (2-5) with consecutive doubles by second baseman Jose Altuve and catcher Jason Castro.

Third baseman Matt Dominguez advanced Castro to third base with a fly ball to Gutierrez in right field, and pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes followed with a squeeze bunt that scored Castro and doubled the lead.

"I knew if I got it I would definitely get it down if the ball was in the strike zone, if it was close," Barnes said of the bunt sign. "I was just waiting for the sign and he (third base coach Dave Trembley) gave it to me. So I tried to put it where no one could really get the play home."

Iwakuma allowed six hits and one walk while fanning seven. He danced around a pair of runners in the second inning and did so again in the fourth when center fielder Trevor Crowe recorded the lone extra-base hit off Iwakuma with a two-out double that followed a Chris Carter walk.

But like he did in the first, second, fifth and seventh innings, Iwakuma induced a groundball out to close the frame, on this occasion getting right fielder L.J. Hoes to roll over on a 2-0 fastball that Nick Franklin swallowed up with a diving stop before recovering to record an assist.

"This is a very aggressive team and we know that they'll swing first pitch," Iwakuma said. "So just keeping the ball down and relying on the movement on my sinker and also my split (finger fastball) late in the count."

Iwakuma was brilliant, but he couldn't match the stamina of Oberholtzer. And with Oberholtzer attacking the Mariners with a 90 mile-per-hour fastball that Franklin described as "sneaky," all the Astros needed to do was wait for a chance to strike. Oberholtzer skillfully provided Houston that opportunity.

"Outstanding with a capital O. Oberholtzer was pretty good," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "He was on the attack from pitch No. 1. You look at the pitch total, 100 some odd pitches, 83 for strikes. He decided that he was going to be aggressive and he attacked the strike zone and allowed the defense to play and made them have to swing the bat early in the count."

NOTES: The Mariners recalled former closer Tom Wilhelmsen from Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday and will use him in multiple roles now that RHP Danny Farquhar has converted 11 of 12 save opportunities since taking over for Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen went 0-1 with a 10.50 ERA in eight games with the Rainiers after posting an 0-3 record and 4.37 ERA with five blown saves in 29 opportunities with Seattle. ... The Astros recalled OF Crowe Saturday night and inserted him into the starting lineup on Sunday. Crowe hit .200 in 34 games before suffering a sprained right shoulder on June 20. He was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Aug. 11 and hit .304 in 60 games with the RedHawks.
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