OAKLAND, Calif. — Fernando Rodney was warming in the bullpen of O.co Coliseum, preparing himself for what was expected to be another nail-biter of a save situation on Tuesday night.
But teammates decided to give him a night off.
The Mariners turned a 4-3 lead into an 8-3 win, scoring four runs in the top of the ninth and rolling to an easy win over the Oakland A’s. The victory put them over .500 at 16-15 for the first time since April 15. They’ve now won four in a row and nine of their last 11 games — their best stretch of success this season. That eight-game losing streak seems like a distant memory. With a .516 winning percentage, they moved into second place in the division just ahead of Texas’ 17-16 record and .515 winning percentage. It seemed impossible two weeks ago.
“When we were struggling, everyone was waiting for one guy to step up,” said designated hitter Corey Hart. “Through this stretch we’ve had plenty of guys chipping in and stepping up. Every night it seems like someone else is doing it for us out there. It’s definitely a group effort.”
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That kind of described the ninth inning flurry against A’s would-be closer Jim Johnson.
It started with a leadoff walk from Brad Miller. Michael Saunders’ sacrifice bunt was so good that Johnson threw it away trying to go to first base, putting both runners in scoring position. Johnson came back to strike out James Jones and then intentionally walk Robinson Cano to load the bases for Hart.
Hart delivered, but not in the way he normally does. There was no towering home run or laser to the gap. No, it was a soft ground ball to shortstop. It might have been a double-play ball, but Cano made a nice takeout slide at second base and Hart mustered just enough speed in his oft-surgically repaired knees to beat out the relay throw to first, allowing Miller to score from third.
“That’s about as quick as I’m getting down the line,” Hart said. “I can’t do it all the time. But once in a while I can throw it out there.”
It was a big insurance run at the time. But Seattle kept on adding them.
Smoak looped a broken-bat single onto the grass in center just out of shortstop Jed Lowrie’s reach, scoring Saunders and pinch-runner Cole Gillespie.
“Believe it or not, Johnson has really good stuff so I just tried to stay on the ball and sneak one out there,” Smoak said. “The bat broke in my hand. It was kind of weird. At first it was hold your breath, and then as I got half way down the line I saw it was in there.”
The Mariners had scored three runs with the hardest-hit ball traveling about 150 feet. Kyle Seager changed that by belting a double to left field to score Smoak from first.
With the five-run lead, there was no need for Rodney. Instead, Tom Wilhelmsen pitched a scoreless ninth.
The ninth inning outburst secured the win for starter Roenis Elias (3-2).
It was impossible for Elias to be as good as his last outing, when he dominated the Yankees. But the young lefty showed some moxie.
Facing the American League West leading and ultra-patient A’s, Elias fought through a sluggish start, pitching 61
3 innings and allowing three runs on five hits, walking three and striking out three.
“He seemed to find his groove in the middle innings,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He found his curveball and found his change-up and settled down quite nicely. He did a nice job. I’m very pleased with how he came out of it.”
Seattle jumped all over A’s starter Jesse Chavez in the first inning. Jones and Cano got things going with back-to-back one-out singles. Jones advanced to third after tagging up on Hart’s deep fly to center field. That move proved fortuitous because Chavez uncorked a wild pitch to Smoak that allowed Jones to trot home.
Smoak then plated Cano with a pretty opposite-field double down the left-field line. Dustin Ackley later scored Smoak with a single to right-center to go up 3-0.
A 3-0 lead would have seemed to make the outing much easier for Elias, but he just wasn’t as sharp as usual.
Early on, his command wavered and his pitches wandered over the plate. Given a 3-0 lead, he gave two runs back in the second inning as a wild pitch helped put runners into scoring position and allowed Nick Punto to drive them home with a sharp single up the middle.
The next three innings were a fight for Elias, but he didn’t allow a run.
“I was a little erratic early,” Elias said through translator and bullpen coach Mike Rojas. “I got my rhythm down and continued to go.”
The Mariners added a run in the sixth inning on Mike Zunino’s sacrifice fly to right field to push the lead to 4-2.
But the A’s answered in the bottom of the sixth. Yoenis Cespedes blasted a leadoff solo home run to left field off his fellow Cuban.