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HOU@SEA: Harang two-hits Astros, strikes out 10

SEATTLE -- Veteran right-hander Aaron Harang bounced back in a big way Tuesday night with a two-hit shutout, and Raul Ibanez launched his 13th home run of the year as the Mariners topped the Astros, 4-0.

Harang, 35, lasted just 2 1/3 innings in his previous outing, getting shelled by the Yankees, but the big man delivered a strong outing against Houston, improving to 3-6 with his second shutout in his past four starts as he struck out 10 with no walks.

"He was fantastic," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. "When he commands his fastball and it rides like it was tonight and he's able to leverage it downhill and climb when he wants to, he's real good. When he does that, his secondary stuff is locked in, too, and that's what you saw tonight."

Ibanez hit his second home run in as many nights against the Astros and has cranked out 11 long balls in his past 26 games to provide some needed punch for the Mariners. The 41-year-old left fielder ranks second on the club behind Kendrys Morales with 32 RBIs.

"I've been swinging better," said Ibanez, who had two of Seattle's seven hits. "I've been getting the fat part of the bat on the ball and doing whatever I can to help the team win. I'm not thinking about it a whole lot."

Nor is he thinking about his advancing age, as he continues helping a young team with both his experience and bat.

"I don't know what 41 is supposed to feel like," he said. "I don't even know what that means. I feel good, doing my thing and preparing every day the best I can to help the team win."

The Mariners held onto their third-place standing in the American League West at 29-37 overall and clinched a series victory with the win, having beaten the Astros in the first two games entering Wednesday's finale. Seattle is now 4-4 against Houston this season after dropping two series earlier in the year.

Harang has been erratic this season after being acquired from the Rockies in an early-season trade and is carrying a 5.60 ERA, but has now thrown quality starts in five of his last seven outings. He allowed just three baserunners -- a single in the second, an error on Brendan Ryan in the sixth and a base hit in the eighth.

The 15-year veteran also threw a shutout on May 27 with a four-hitter against the Padres and now has eight in his career. The last time he had two in the same season was 2006 while with the Reds.

"Some days you go out there and feel great and can throw any pitch whenever you want in a count, and other days, you just pray you can throw one pitch for a strike," said Harang. "When you can throw any pitch for strikes and get ahead early, it makes all the difference in the world."

The long-time Reds starter has beaten Houston in six straight starts, dating back to 2009, going 6-0 with a 2.04 ERA. This time he took advantage of the aggressiveness of a young Astros lineup by getting ahead early in counts and keeping them off-balance.

"He pretty much attacked the zone," said Astros skipper Bo Porter. "I don't think it was anything that we were not prepared for, it just seemed like he missed barrels and changed speeds when he needed to."

The Mariners pushed across runs in the first and second, and both were aided by Astros errors when relatively routine throws in from the outfield skittered past the cutoff man on doubles, allowing runners to take third.

Endy Chavez took the extra base on a leadoff double, with an error charged to shortstop Ronny Cedeno when right fielder Trevor Crowe's throw got away. Chavez then scored on a wild pitch.

Nick Franklin led off the second with a near-identical play, doubling to the right-center gap and hustling to third when Crowe's throw again rolled away from several scrambling infielders. Franklin scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Saunders for a 2-0 lead.

Both those runs were earned, but the Astros certainly helped out again on the heels of a three-error outing Monday, when two runs were unearned in Seattle's 3-2 win.

The Mariners added an insurance run in the eighth, when Chavez hit his second double of the night, moved to third on Ryan's sharp grounder to first and scored on Kyle Seager's single.

"It's huge, doing the little things," said Ibanez. "Brendan moving a guy over, Kyle getting the big knock. In the first, Endy taking advantage of the relay throw and then Franklin doing it as well. Especially with a young guy like Nick doing that, the play wasn't over. He's playing to win. It was great to see the way we ran the bases. We took advantage of their mistakes."

"You've got to do that," said Wedge. "If you're not banging the baseball around, then situationally, you've got to be better. You've got to execute and play heads-up baseball."

Morales, the Mariners' leading hitter, was scratched from the lineup about 90 minutes before the game with a sore back. But Ibanez provided some pop with his sixth-inning home run and Harang did the rest as Seattle improved to 5-4 on its homestand.

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