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The Grand Slam: Mariners pass Tigers in wild-card standings with win in Detroit

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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The weekend's most intriguing series is taking place at Comerica Park where the Seattle Mariners are visiting the Detroit Tigers with some surprisingly significant implications in the wild-card race. Going into the opener of the three-game series on Friday night, Seattle sat one-half game behind the slumping Tigers for the AL's second wild-card spot, and with an impressive 7-2 win, they officially traded places for at least 24 hours.

The night started with an emotional scene as Austin Jackson returned to Detroit and received a standing ovation prior to his at-bat leading off the game. But it quickly settled into an intense battle, which Seattle rookie right-hander James Paxton controlled for most of the evening. Making only his ninth career start, Paxton allowed one run over six innings, far out pitching 13-game winner Rick Porcello. 

Robinson Cano made his presence felt as well, launching a solo homer in the fourth off Porcello. That was one of his two hits before he left after fouling a ball off his foot. The injury doesn't appear serious, though, as Cano seemed to be in good spirits following the game, particularly about his team's performance. 

“It says a lot, that we can compete with anyone." Cano said.  "We’ve just got to keep playing.”

Meanwhile, manager Lloyd McClendon downplayed the win with the usual manager speak. 

''This was the first win of the series,'' he said. ''Other than that, no, it was no more significant than another game.''

Good luck selling that one on Mariners fans. Winners of five straight and nine out of 10, their team is rolling heading into Saturday. And what awaits there in the first-ever pitching matchup between Felix Hernandez and David Price. 

Sign us up for that one! 

MEANWHILE, IN MINNESOTA: The Kansas City Royals continued their hot play thanks to a big night from newly acquired outfielder Josh Willingham. In his first game against his former team, the Minnesota Twins, Willingham delivered a bases-clearing double in the fourth inning that helped engineer a five-run rally and an eventual 6-5 victory.

The big hit came against Ricky Nolasco, who was making his first start since July 6 after coming off the disabled list, and it came front of Willingham's three sons, who this time had to meet him in the visitor's clubhouse at Target Field.  

''I knew it was going to be a little strange playing against your former team,'' said Willingham, who was traded from the Twins to the Royals four days ago. ''I'm just happy we won the game tonight.''

Alcides Escobar capped the fourth-inning rally with a two-run triple to center, and later added what proved to be a big insurance run with an RBI single in the eighth. In the ninth, All-Star closer Greg Holland had a rare shaky outing, allowing two runs on a walk and a double. But the extra run held up as the difference. 

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

AROLDIS CHAPMAN'S STRIKEOUT STREAK ENDS: Aroldis Chapman did his job on Friday night, punctuating the Reds 3-2 victory over the Rockies and securing Johnny Cueto's league best 15th win with his 26th save. However, his scoreless outing didn't include a strikeout, which ended his record-breaking string of 49 appearances with at least one punchout.

That would have been a nice, round number to get to, but as it is Chapman's new mark seems pretty safe. On July 12, Chapman surpassed the previous record of 39, which belonged to Bruce Sutter. 

Chapman's streak began on Aug. 21, 2013, almost exactly one year ago. The timeline was pushed back a few weeks after he was hit in the face by a line drive in spring training, but he obviously returned to form immediately. 

Ironically, the Rockies finished their game in San Diego on Monday night by striking out seven straight times. On Friday,  Wilin Rosario popped out to center, Charlie Culberson walked, and then Mike McKenry lined into a game-ending double play to end the streak. 

ASTROS EQUAL 2013 WIN TOTAL: Barring a remarkable collapse, the Houston Astros will not lose 100 games for a fourth straight season. And just to prove how much progress they're making in 2014, Friday night's 5-3 win over the Red Sox in 10 innings was their 51st of the season, matching their total from all of 2013.

At 51-72, they're obviously still a long way from contending, too. But everyone knew it was going to be a long road back to respectability, and slowly but surely the Astros are getting there.

In Friday's win, they received contributions from several of their building blocks, including 26-year-old left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who allowed three runs over seven quality innings. Outfielder Robbie Grossman homered and doubled among his three hits and drove in two. And the night's biggest hit belonged to 23-year-old Jake Marisnick, whom they acquired in the Zack Cosart trade with Miami. His two-run double in the tenth provided the difference. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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