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SEA@HOU: Villar's line-drive homer plates two

HOUSTON -- With a mariachi band periodically chiming in between pitches, the roof closed but the sun still shining and the Astros leading into the late innings, Minute Maid Park was festive for a rare Saturday afternoon game.

Despite some last-ditch efforts to revive it, the Mariners had crashed the party.

Seattle finally got to Dallas Keuchel, pumping out an eight-run seventh inning and holding off a furious six-run Astros' rally to even this weekend's three-game set with a 9-8 win.

"We're not happy with the result, but it's a credit to our guys," said Houston manager Bo Porter. "They keep plugging away, regardless of what happens. We put ourselves in position to make a huge comeback."

Barely 12 hours after the Astros and Mariners wrapped up a marathon 11-inning Friday game, Saturday's affair was still a breeze by comparison. This close game wasn't nearly as cheerful for the home team.

The teams came out swinging, though that aggressiveness favored the pitchers rather than two of the league's weaker offenses.

Keuchel and Hisashi Iwakuma were breaking bats, setting down hitters and cruising through innings with ease.

"Out of the gate, I didn't really feel too well but had some early contact and ground-ball outs, so that kind of got me in a groove," Keuchel said.

They dueled into the seventh, when the Mariners finally exercised a little patience.

Keuchel lost his previously sterling command and walked the bases loaded with no outs. Even Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon's ejection couldn't halt that momentum. Keuchel was yanked immediately after, but the inning was just getting started.

"It felt like a train hit me in the seventh," Keuchel said.

A walk issued by Jose Cisnero tied the game and then the floodgates exploded. Three straight hits, led by Michael Saunders' two-RBI double, accounted for four runs. Kyle Seager's double added another and then Justin Smoak smoked a two-run homer up on the railroad tracks well above the left-field seats.

"For whatever reason, [Keuchel] lost command and the walks really hurt us," Porter said. "We couldn't minimize the damage."

That barrage quickly quelled Houston's Cinco De Mayo weekend celebration, which looked likely to feature an Astros win after an early lead and some tense final frames.

Chris Carter countered Seattle's snowman with a solo homer in the seventh inning, continuing his strange long-ball prowess against the Mariners. He's now hit seven long balls against the M's since June 2013.

Jonathan Villar added a two-run homer and an error helped the Astros score another run in the seventh to keep the deficit manageable at 9-6.

Carter followed his dinger with a long RBI triple, a 430-foot moon shot that landed up Tal's Hill in the eighth inning.

"Whenever you drive a ball to center the way [Carter] did, you know he's staying on it," Porter said. "We know it comes in bunches with him. Hopefully, this is the start of a really good stretch where he can swing with power we know he's capable of."

The three-bagger led an eighth-inning rally that eventually swelled into a bases-loaded threat with two outs and Jose Altuve at the dish. He flied out on a soft liner to right field.

"You let me pick one guy up [in that situation], that's the guy I'd pick," Porter said. "We felt pretty good about it."

Houston also wasted a leadoff walk in the ninth before Fernando Rodney retired the next three hitters, meaning the team's season-high eight runs still weren't enough.

The game got off to an innocuous start, with few hints of the late fireworks to come. Villar laced an RBI triple in the third inning and scored moments later on Altuve's sacrifice fly to stake Houston to a 2-0 lead.

Those were the first runs off Iwakuma in 25 innings dating back to last season. Iwakuma, who was a 2013 All-Star and finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting, was making his first start this season after straining a tendon in his finger during Spring Training.

That two-run frame was the only rude awakening for the Mariners' de facto ace, who tossed 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball.

"Kuma looked like Kuma of old, right off the bat," said Mariners catcher Mike Zunino. "I know he's still ironing out some stuff, but I thought his breaking ball and split were great today."

Even though Iwakuma's return was the story, Keuchel actually outdueled him for a large chunk of the game.

The lefty was a ground-ball machine early, flummoxing a sleepy Seattle lineup with a potent mix of curveballs and changeups. He needed only 60 pitches through five scoreless innings, but the sixth hinted at his impending downfall.

"I just felt sluggish and thankful to make it through unscathed as long as I did," Keuchel said. "The one thing I'd take back is a bunch of those three-ball counts and pound the zone more."

The Mariners scratched across a run on a triple and Robinson Cano's ensuing RBI bloop single to chop Houston's lead in half. More than that, it seemed to unsettle Keuchel, who lost control before handing the reins to the Astros' bullpen.

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