ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Mariners are well-acquainted this season with disaster at Angel Stadium and, on Sunday afternoon, it appeared to be happening again.
A four-run lead was down to two runs in the eighth inning, and the tying runs were in scoring position.
Not this time.
First baseman Danny Valencia saved two runs with an acrobatic stretch for the final out before Edwin Diaz blitzed through the ninth inning in closing out a 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
“Last time in here, we struggled, obviously,” manager Scott Servais said. “So it’s nice to get two out of three and head back home.”
Last time in here, the Mariners suffered a three-game sweep by blowing a six-run lead in the ninth inning in the series finale on a similar Sunday afternoon.
“That’s the past,” said Diaz, who gave up the final three runs on April 9 in that dreadful 10-9 loss. “That was more than two months ago.”
This time, there were three games in one.
It started with James Paxton (6-3) flashing no-hit stuff while retiring the first 16 Angels.
“I was kind of aware of it in the fifth,” Paxton said, “when Danny (Valencia) made a heck of a play to keep it going. Guys were making great plays behind me.”
Part 2 came in the eighth inning, after the Angels pulled to within 2-1, when Robinson Cano cranked a three-run homer off the foul pole in right field against reliever Kenyan Middleton.
“Oh, I was hoping it would stay fair,” Cano said, “and then it hit the pole. To be able to get a big hit with men in scoring position means a lot.”
The Mariners led 5-1, but the specter of that April 9 debacle surfaced when the Angels stirred later in the inning against ultra-reliable Nick Vincent, who surrendered four straight hits.
“Just bad pitches,” Vincent said simply.
The Mariners escaped with defense.
First, center fielder Guillermo Heredia made a leaping catch at the track with the bases loaded on a Cameron Maybin drive for the first out.
“I hit it good,” Maybin said. “Dude made a good play, man. Got to tip your hat. It’s unfortunate, but I’ve done the same thing to a lot of guys in my career. It’s just a part of it.”
Heredia’s catch turned extra bases into a sacrifice fly that trimmed the lead to 5-3 – and the Angels still had two runners on base with just one out.
Marc Rzepczynski replaced Vincent and got the second out by retiring Kole Calhoun on a popup.
In came Diaz to face Albert Pujols with runners at second and third. Pujols hit a grounder to short that Jean Segura bobbled but recovered before launching an off-line throw to first.
“It was a tricky hop before I got to the baseball,” Segura said. “I just charged it, and I bobbled it a little bit. I was able to hang with it and grab it.”
Valencia shifted his feet, made the catch and held the base for the final out. The Angels challenged the call, but replays confirmed the out.
“I was pretty nervous when the review came out,” Valencia said. “It was a big play. It happened so fast that you feel like you (held the base), but it happened so quick that you really don’t know.”
Diaz then rolled through a one-two-three ninth with two strikeouts. No further drama.
PLAY OF THE GAME: There were two web gems that saved the Mariners from bigger problems in LA’s two-run eighth inning.
Heredia made terrific catch on a deep drive by Maybin, which turned extra bases into a sacrifice fly. Valencia’s ability to hold first base on Segura’s off-line throw for the final out saved two runs.
PLUS: Segura had four hits and drove in the first two runs. He raised his average to .338 and took over the club lead from Ben Gamel, who dropped to .336 after going 0 for 4. … Steve Cishek needed one pitch in the seventh inning to escape an inherited first-and-third jam with one out. He got Andrelton Simmons to hit a hopper back to the mound and turned it into a pitcher-short-first double play.
MINUS: While Segura had four hits, the rest of the Mariners only had three. … The four-five-six hitters in the lineup (Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager and Valencia) were a combined 0 for 12. … Vincent gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning, and his ERA jumped from 1.71 to 2.25.
STAT PACK: Paxton has a 2.04 ERA in nine career starts against the Angels.
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