OAKLAND, Calif. — It may have ended with a loss. But the Mariners return home to Seattle as winners. Sure, they lost 2-0 to the Athletics in the nightcap of a doubleheader on Wednesday evening at O.co Coliseum, snapping a five-game winning streak.
Sure, closing out the trip with a four-game sweep of the A’s in Oakland would have been fantastic. It would have even put them in first place in the American League West.
But after fighting back to win the opening game of the doubleheader, 6-4, in 10 innings, Seattle just seemed a step slow in the field and tick behind at the plate.
They got a solid start from Erasmo Ramirez and good relief work from Tom Wilhelmsen, but there was not much offense. Seattle mustered just three hits and no extra-base hits against reliever Drew Pomeranz, who made the start, and the rest of the A’s bullpen.
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But even after 19 innings of baseball and getting shut out in the second game, the Mariners were still one happy group.
This 10-day trip — consisting of three cities and nine games — couldn’t have gone much better. The Mariners went 7-2 on the trip.
“Given the travel as it was — and it was pretty tough New York to Houston and Houston to Oakland — and to come out of this series 7-2, it’s just an unbelievable trip,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I was very proud of my team and how we played. We put ourselves in a pretty good position.”
Coupled with their improved play at the end of their last homestand, they have won 10 of their last 13 games, improving to 17-16 on the season — alone in second place in the American League West ahead of Texas.
That seemed implausible 15 days ago when they had just lost their eighth straight game.
“I think the only ones that wavered was you guys — the sky was falling in and we might as well pack our games and go home,” McClendon said to the media in attendance. “ But our guys had a great attitude. I think they continue to believe in each other And I told them that they would, that if they continued to go about your business in the right matter things will turn around for you.”
But a turnaround this successful was slightly unexpected. The Mariners took two games in Yankee Stadium, solved their issues with two of three wins against the lowly Astros and then won three of four from the A’s, who still lead the division.
“It’s been pretty good,” said superstitious pitcher Felix Hernandez. “I’m not going to talk about it, but it’s been pretty good.”
The overall mood was also helped by winning the first game in dramatic fashion with Justin Smoak delivering the game-inning RBI single in the top of the 10th — a chopper off the glove of a leaping Daric Barton at first base — and Kyle Seager following with a RBI single of his own to provide a nice insurance run for Fernando Rodney to get his ninth save.
“The field got hard and I was able to bounce one off his glove,” Smoak said.
So he didn’t think it was going to be a hit?
“Not a chance,” he said. “I was pretty mad about it as soon as I hit it. Once it clanked off his glove, I was just trying to get to first. It’s baseball and that’s what happens when you go on good streaks — stuff like that happens.”
There was no stuff like that happening for Ramirez and no run support either in the nightcap.
Called up to be the 26th man on the roster specifically for the doubleheader, Ramirez gave the Mariners better than expected, pitching six innings and giving up two runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
“He threw the ball good,” McClendon said. “He did a nice job.”
It was a vast improvement to the type of starts he was giving the Mariners early in the season, the type of starts that got him demoted back to the minor leagues.
“I totally understand what happened,” Ramirez said. “I was totally lost. Everybody was asking me what the difference between spring training and now, and what I was doing. I put it all back together again. I wasn’t aggressive. I was scared to throw. That’s what I worked on in the minor.”
The first run he allowed came in the third inning when Craig Gentry led off with a ground ball into the hole. He later scored from first when Jed Lowrie’s towering pop fly to shallow left field dropped in between left fielder Cole Gillespie, shortstop Brad Miller and Seager at third base.
The A’s tacked on another in the fourth inning when Yoenis Cespedes sent a screaming line drive over the wall in left field for the other run.
The Mariners had minor threats in the first and seventh inning, but Pomeranz, who pitched five shutout innings, Dan Otero and Jim Johnson kept them scoreless.
Wilhelmsen gave the Mariners two scoreless innings of relief work.
Now the Mariners head back to Safeco Field to open a seven-game homestand, starting with a four-game series against a talented Kansas City Royals (16-17) team.
“It’s definitely a building block and a good stretch and hopefully we can carry it over to home,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “We still have a lot of room to piece everything together and play a complete ballgame. It’s still a work in progress.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish