OAKLAND, Calif. – Given how they’d performed over the past few days – particularly at the plate and with runners in scoring positions – this was unforeseen.
And how they accumulated some of those runs – showing patience at the plate with runners in scoring position, and benefiting from a careless mistake by the best-fielding third baseman in the American League – was even less expected.
Perhaps there was an added urgency, knowing the previous two days of lethargy in San Diego might’ve caused irreparable damage to their postseason hopes and dreams.
And, of course, they were facing the team directly ahead of them in the chase for that playoff spot. Though you wouldn’t know it by the generously listed crowd of 10,844 not filling Oakland Coliseum.
But the version of the Mariners that manager Scott Servais wishes he would see more often returned on Thursday night, picking up a big 7-1 win over the Athletics.
Seattle scored five runs in the first – all with two outs – added a couple of runs for insurance and were never really threatened by an Athletics rally thanks to a solid start from Wade LeBlanc, who delivered seven shutout innings, allowing three hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
But will this version of the Mariners remain for the series’ remaining three games?
More than one win in this four-game series is needed with the number of games in the season down to 28. Seattle trimmed Oakland’s lead in the second wild card to 4 1/2 games.
The five runs in the first inning against starter Frankie Montas, making the start in place of Sean Manaea, probably should have been only two.
With runners on first and third with one out, Nelson Cruz hit a rocket one-hopper up the middle that seemed destined to be a single. Instead, Montas made a leaping grab of the ball without even really looking the ball into his glove. It stunned Mitch Haniger, who was the runner at third, leaving him caught in a rundown for the second out.
But Kyle Seager worked a walk to load the bases and Ryon Healy followed with a single to left against his former team to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead.
Ben Gamel pushed the lead to 2-0, working a walk after falling behind 1-2 in the count.
The crushing play of the inning came on Mike Zunino’s routine ground ball to third base. Matt Chapman, the favorite to win the American League Gold Glove at the position, fielded the ball cleanly and took his time to throw to first, knowing Zunino has catcher’s speed.
But his throw came out low and short-hopped in the dirt. First baseman Matt Olson couldn’t catch it or even knock it down. The ball rolled into the ample foul territory, allowing two runs to score.
Instead of being out of the inning and only up 2-0, the Mariners had a 4-0 lead that went to 5-0 on Dee Gordon’s infield single that Chapman also had trouble handling.
Two missed plays by one of the best defensive players in baseball had given Seattle three free runs.
LeBlanc made sure that those gifts were put to good use. He held the A’s scoreless over seven innings, allowing three hits with three walks and four strikeouts.