OAKLAND, Calif. – The Seattle Mariners moved up another notch Friday night in the American League wild-card standings by holding on for for a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Mike Zunino and Nori Aoki hit homers, and Hisashi Iwakuma broke a personal four-game losing streak by pitching into the seventh inning before the bullpen protected the one-run lead over the final seven outs.
The Mariner could have made it easier on themselves by cashing a few more opportunities, but it’s September, they’re trying to stay alive in the postseason race and, well, they did enough.
By winning for the fourth time in five games, the Mariners improved to 73-68 and pulled to within 3 1/2 games of Baltimore and Detroit in the race for the A.L.’s final wild-card berth.
They have 21 games remaining.
The Mariners took a 2-0 lead by scoring single runs in the first and third innings against Oakland starter Daniel Mengden. The second run came on Nori Aoki’s second homer of the season.
Oakland broke through against Iwakuma (15-11) on three singles in the fifth inning, but the Mariners countered with Zunino’s towering leadoff homer in the seventh against reliever Daniel Coulombe.
The Athletics knocked out Iwakuma on Bruce Maxwell’s two-out RBI later in the seventh. It was Maxwell’s third hit of the game.
Dan Altavilla replaced Iwakuma and held the lead by retiring Joey Wendle on a fly to right. Steve Cishek worked a one-two-three eighth inning despite going to a full count on each hitter.
Edwin Diaz then closed out the victory for his 14th save in 15 chances.
The Mariners had chances for some big innings against Mengden, who threw 100 pitches in just five innings. But they stranded five runners in the first three innings and finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Turned out, it didn’t matter.
The Mariners opened the scoring in the first inning when Nelson Cruz capped a 13-pitch at-bat by lining a two-out RBI double off the right-field wall.
Cruz fouled off six full-count pitches before jumping a 94-mph fastball. Mengden (1-7) limited the damage to one run but needed 35 pitches to get through the inning.
Adam Lind opened the second inning that left fielder Khris Davis played into a double. A faster runner would have reached third after Davis waved at the ball on the run as it bounced past him to the wall.
First baseman Yonder Alonso tried to trap Lind after grabbing a Leonys Martin grounder, but Lind got back to second as Martin reached first.
The Mariners squandered the double gift when Zunino struck out, and Ketel Marte grounded into a double play.
But Aoki started the third inning by turning on another 94-mph fastball from Mengden and driving it over the right-field wall.
Seth Smith and Robinson Cano followed with singles but, again, the Mariners wasted a chance. Cruz lined out to short, and Kyle Seager popped to third. Lind walked, which loaded the bases, but Martin struck out.
Oakland closed to within 2-1 with three singles in the fifth inning – a one-out bloop and, with two outs, a pair a seeing-eye grounders.
Iwakuma stranded two runners when Marcus Semien grounded into a force at second, but he threw 27 pitches in the fifth after requiring just 52 to complete the first four innings.
But Iwakuma bounced back the next inning by striking out the middle of the order – Stephen Vogt, Davis and Alonso – on 11 pitches.
Zunino then led off the seventh inning with a 433-foot homer to center. The Mariners had their two-run lead back at 3-1.
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