OAKLAND – Their deficit for the American League’s second wild-card spot was the same as when they arrived at this concrete mausoleum on Thursday –5 1/2 games. But as the Mariners exited the Oakland Coliseum – likely for the last time this season – on a bright and warm Sunday afternoon, their situation wasn’t the same as before.
Nope, staying even meant falling behind for Seattle.
They needed to win this game and this four-game series vs. their A.L. West rival. A win would’ve narrowed the gap to 3 1/2 games and applied at least something more than token pressure on the A’s – a team with a predominance of young players that have never been in this situation before. With the Mariners playing three vs. the Orioles – the worst team in baseball – and the A’s hosting the Yankees for three games, things could’ve gotten much tighter.
Instead, the Mariners imploded in a four-run sixth inning and lost 8-2 to the team ahead of them in the wild-card race. It was a familiar performance and results, offering an example of how both teams reached their respective spots in the standings.
“For five innings, we right there in the game,” manager Scott Servais said. “But to win this game and this series we needed to come out and put some runs up early. It’s a disappointing way to finish the series.”
Mathematically, they have chances. Logically, it’s going to take a miracle because the team they are chasing was the team they needed to beat on Sunday. They can’t deny their predicament.
“This was a big sway game today with where we are at in the standings,” Servais said. “We still have some baseball left to play, but this was the five-to-three game. You win you are at three, instead we are back at five.”
Seattle is 76-61 with 25 games left to play in the season, while Oakland is 82-56 with 24 games left to play. Even if the A’s started to slow down, which they’ve shown no signs of doing, and play at an even .500 over those 24 games to finish 94-68, Seattle would have to go 18-7 over its final 25 games to just tie. The Mariners haven’t played at that pace since mid-June.
“We’ve got an uphill climb,” he said. “We have to go home and take care of business there and rattle off a good string of wins – maybe five or six in a row and then see what happens. There’s still plenty of baseball left to play, but it has to happen really quick for us.”
What’s more impossible to believe: the Mariners suddenly getting hot and reeling off a bunch of wins or the A’s regressing to a mean that they’ve avoided — unlike Seattle – and losing more than they win?
Based on the last six weeks, neither seems plausible. When the Mariners and A’s meet again for the final three games of the season series at Safeco Field on Sept. 24-26 … the outcomes could be meaningless to either team’s postseason chances.
After five solid innings of work, allowing just one run, starter Felix Hernandez gave up a leadoff single to Chad Pinder and walked pinch-hitter Matt Joyce to start that fateful sixth.
“That was walk to Joyce was one of the bigger at-bats in the game,” Servais said. “It changes the inning.”
The A’s then tried to sacrifice bunt the runners into scoring position, but Hernandez instead tossed a wild pitch that allowed them move up a base without requiring an out. He then gave up a hard one-hopper off the bat of pinch-hitter Marcus Semien. Seager made a diving attempt at the ball, but it hit off the end of his glove and rolled into left field.
“It tipped off the end of my glove,” Seager said. “I was certainly hoping to catch it. But I just couldn’t quite bring it in.”
Pinder scored with ease while Joyce ran through the stop at third and just beat the throw in from Denard Span, breaking the 1-1 tie and giving Oakland a 3-1 lead.
“Felix threw the ball fine,” Servais said. “But the sixth got away from him really quick on about seven or eight pitches. His stuff in the game was really good.”
The two-run single ended Hernandez’s outing. He walked off the mound staring at his feet. A start that seemed so promising had gone haywire. His season of diminished returns and discontent continued.
“I feel good,” he said through forced optimism. “I feel fine on the mound. That’s the big thing. The results will come.”
His replacement – Nick Vincent – didn’t fare much better. Vincent gave up back-to-back singles that allowed a run charged to Hernandez to score, making it 4-1. Lefty specialist Zach Duke was brought in for one batter – left-handed hitting Matt Chapman – and issued a walk. Shawn Armstrong, the fourth pitcher of the inning, finally got the remaining two outs, but not without allowing another run to score on a sac fly.
Down 5-1 isn’t ideal against an A’s bullpen that was designed to shorten games. The Mariners actually had chances to cut the deficit. Seager doubled and Mike Zunino blooped a single against Lou Trivino with one out in the seventh. But Dee Gordon lined out and Mitch Haniger struck out.
The Mariners picked up a run in the eighth off of old friend Fernando Rodney to trim it to 5-2 on Ryon Healy’s two-out RBI single. With runners on the corners, A’s manager Bob Melvin didn’t hesitate. He went to closer Blake Treinen for the final out of the eighth. The All-Star right-hander needed one pitch to get Seager to pop out to left. Seager spiked his bat in disgust.
“He’s obviously really tough and the ball moves so much,” Seager said. “The approach is to get him up and get him in the air. It’s a simple approach, but it’s harder to do. I got a pitch up and he just beat to me to it and I popped it up.”
The missed opportunity was rendered moot when James Pazos struggled in the eighth inning, putting a pair of runners on and Justin Grimm served up a three-run homer to Stephen Piscotty to make it 8-2.
The real failure came in getting just one run against veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson, who pitched six innings, allowing one run on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Nelson Cruz’s RBI single was one of three hits in that first inning. Jackson then pitched the next five innings allowing just two base runners on a pair of walks.
“We just couldn’t get anything going after that first inning against him,” Servais said. “When Felix is throwing that well early, you need to take advantage of that. But we weren’t able to get any runs up early in the ballgame and that was going to be the deciding point in this ballgame.”