On a night when his bobblehead found the hands of the first 20,000 spectators at Safeco Field, Hisashi Iwakuma pitched a nearly flawless baseball game.
“I thought Iwakuma was as sharp as he’s been all year,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said after the 6-2 victory Saturday over Oakland.
Iwakuma showed why the Mariners are playoff contenders — and why they could be so dangerous if they do find themselves in a playoff series. A night after Felix Hernandez shut down the A’s in a one-run victory, Iwakuma came right back and muzzled baseball’s best team again, this time in front of 39,204 people.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager said. “Those guys at the top of the rotation are phenomenal. Any time you go into a series and you’ve got those two guys up front, you get a few runs and you’ll be on the top end of it.”
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Iwakuma breezed through 82/3 innings and only ran into real trouble once. That came in the ninth inning, when he stood just one out away from the first complete game and shutout of his career.
Brandon Moss hit a two-out, two-run homer that cut the Mariners’ lead to 6-2. That snapped Iwakuma’s streak of 20 scoreless innings, and it ended the longest start of his career. McClendon pulled Iwakuma — “I took him as far as I could take him,” he said — because he started missing his spots. Iwakuma left to a thundering standing ovation, and Yoervis Medina got the final out for Seattle.
In his past three starts, Iwakuma has gone at least six innings, recorded at least seven strikeouts and given up two runs or less. Iwakuma hadn’t exactly pitched poorly earlier this season, but he had taken some lumps, and McClendon had a reason why.
“One of the things that probably hurt him a little bit was his game planning, not so much on his part but on our part,” McClendon said. “He might have become a little bit predictable. I think he’s got a nice mix now. He’s in and out, he’s up and down. He’s using all his pitches. I think that makes him pretty tough.”
Said Iwakuma, “I feel great right now. I feel like the momentum is there. I feel like I can start off the second half very strong as well.”
And it happened on a night when the Mariners’ offense, dormant of late, scored more than three runs for the first time in eight games.
Corey Hart and Dustin Ackley teamed to give the Mariners an early lead. Hart got his first extra-base hit in 26 at-bats when he doubled off the wall in the second inning. Ackley drove him in with a single to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead. It was Ackley’s first RBI in eight games.
Seager gave Iwakuma some wiggle room in the fifth inning when he crushed a two-run homer, his 15th of the season and his 13th at Safeco Field.
That extra padding in the fifth came without Brad Miller, the starting shortstop.
Miller was ejected in the fourth inning after getting called out on strikes. Replays showed the pitch was borderline, and Miller said a few words to home plate umpire Bob Davidson as he stood at the plate. Miller took a few steps toward the dugout, turned and smiled over his shoulder, with Davidson watching. That’s when Davidson ejected him.
“He said something to the umpire,” McClendon said, “and the umpire didn’t like it.”
Robinson Cano provided the cherry with a three-run homer in the eighth inning with two outs, his seventh home run of the season.
“This is the team you want to beat,” Cano said.
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