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Kendrys Morales, Hisashi Iwakuma help Mariners beat Blue Jays

SEATTLE – It was billed as the Mariners’ biggest series of the season, the likes of which this part of the country hadn’t seen in years.

If that was the case – if the Mariners’ three-game series against fellow wild-card contender Toronto brought on the first signs of playoff fever in Seattle – the Mariners answered the call with some of their best baseball of the season.

The Mariners completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays with a 2-0 win Wednesday. That capped a wildly successful homestand in which the Mariners won eight of nine games, averaged nearly six runs a game and moved into a virtual tie with the Detroit Tigers for the final American League wild-card spot.

The Mariners and Tigers meet for a three-game series in Detroit starting Friday.

The most promising development of the homestand was not just that the Mariners won eight of nine games, but also how they won them. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has described his offense as being a “BB gun”, and it has been the glaring weakness on a team whose pitching staff has produced historically good numbers to this point.

But the Mariners played with some gunpowder in their nine-game homestand. They scored 52 runs during that stretch, an average of 5.8 runs per game. In the first 16 games after the All-Star break, they scored 43 runs, or just 2.7 runs per game.

They scored at least four runs in seven of their nine games this homestand. In their previous 16 games, they had scored four runs or more only six times. The Mariners are 48-10 this season when they score four runs in a game.

On an individual level, Kendrys Morales started to show signs of life after a slow start since joining the Mariners in a trade from Minnesota. Morales put the Mariners in front right away with a two-run home run in the first inning. It was his just his third home run of the season but his second since joining the Mariners and his second in as many nights.

Morales has hits in four of his past five games, including three multi-hit games.

“He’s starting to settle in a little bit,” McClendon said before the game. “He’s starting to swing the bat. I see him taking much better BP, driving the ball to all fields and really staying inside the ball.”

While the Mariners’ offense has struggled for most of the year, the pitching staff has more than carried the load. Hisashi Iwakuma guided the Mariners through 6 2/3 scoreless innings, just missing out on going at least seven innings and giving up two runs or less for the seventh time in his past eight starts.

The Mariners also stretched their club record of allowing three runs or less to 12 straight games.

Iwakuma battled out of a jam in the fourth inning with two outs and runners on second and third. But he struck out Munenori Kawasaki to end the threat.

Fernando Rodney allowed one hit and struck out two in the ninth to earn his 35th save.