Nelson Cruz hits a solo homer in the 10th inning after the M’s and Fernando Rodney squandered a 7-3 lead entering the ninth.
OAKLAND, Calif. – Nothing has been simple for the Mariners in the early days of the 2015 season.
Take for example Sunday afternoon’s 8-7 extra-innings win over the Oakland A’s.
Sure manager Lloyd McClendon summed up the victory by saying, “It’s a great day for the Mariners.”
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But the fatigue in his smile showed that the day was a roller coaster of emotional highs — Nelson Cruz’s go-ahead homer in the 10th inning — and frustrating lows — Fernando Rodney’s four-run adventure in the ninth inning.
“On several different accounts, we should have probably lost that game,” McClendon said. “It’s the type of game where it would be easy to lay down and say, ‘We’ll get ’em tomorrow.’ But our guys battled it out under very tough circumstances to get the win.”
For five innings, it appeared as if Felix Hernandez might suffer his first loss at O.co Coliseum since 2009.
A twisted ankle in the first inning and then tightness in his right quad from a play in the fifth inning forced him to the bench in the top of the sixth inning with the A’s leading 3-0.
But an unusual thing happened. In a rare reversal of roles, the Mariners’ offense picked up their ace when he was struggling.
Hernandez watched and celebrated as his teammates scored four runs in the top of the sixth to take a one-run lead, aided by A’s right fielder Josh Reddick dropping Robinson Cano’s two-out line drive, allowing two runs to score and tie the score at 3-3. Kyle Seager’s run-scoring single put Seattle up 4-3.
It appeared the Mariners iced the game in the seventh on pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks’ three-run homer — a low screamer that had just enough height to carry over the wall in center field.
“I knew I got it good,” Weeks said. “But you know here, you never know. It depends on if the wind is blowing out or blowing in. It takes a pretty good poke to get it out to center.”
Not only did the Seattle hitters take Hernandez off the hook for the loss, but he was in line to get the win, despite a less-than-stellar line of five innings pitched, three runs allowed on eight hits with two walks and one strikeout. Perhaps payback for all the wins that never came despite brilliant efforts.
“It was not one of my better days,” Hernandez said. “I was trying to make good pitches. But I was up and not getting ahead of hitters and making a lot of mistakes.”
Up 7-3, the Mariners were cruising along with relievers Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush combining to pitch three scoreless innings.
But McClendon eschewed setup man Yoervis Medina, who had been warming in the eighth, for Rodney in the ninth inning. It was a non-save situation, which typically doesn’t yield great results for closers.
Rodney didn’t just struggle. He imploded. The first five hitters went double, walk, double, single and walk. The A’s got two runs off that barrage to cut it to 7-5. Rodney got Billy Butler to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, but a run scored to make it 7-6. With two outs, Eric Sogard dumped a single into center to score the tying run. Rodney finally ended the misery, getting Stephen Vogt to ground out to second.
“I don’t know what happened, man,” Rodney said. “I got down in the count early and I tried to find the strike zone and they made good contact and swings. I felt like I was missing a little.”
So why Rodney with a four-run lead?
“I was putting my closer in trying to win a game,” McClendon said. “I did it a lot last year and I will do it every time this year. And I will tell you this, ‘You are a fool if you don’t put your closer in with a four-run lead.’ Because what happens is you’ll send someone else out there and a runner gets on base and then you’re burning two guys because you are bringing in your closer then.”
It was a stomach punch of an inning.
But Cruz offered his counter punch. Yanking a solo homer to left field in the top of 10th off A’s closer Tyler Clippard. It was his second homer in as many games.
“I got it off the end of the bat,” he said.
Medina pitched a scoreless 10th to get the save. And, yes, Rodney got the win.
“Go ask them about their closer and if there’s frustration,” McClendon said. “You know what’s going to happen? Clippard will be out there tomorrow and so will Rodney. That’s just the way it is. They’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. And everybody flies off the handle when a guy blows a game. I can’t do that. Somebody has to keep their head. And I choose to keep mine. So he’ll be back out there tomorrow. Trust me.”
Hernandez showed he wasn’t perfect in Oakland despite ridiculous career numbers in the city —- 10-2, 2.64 earned-run average. The issues with the ankle and leg were a problem.
“I couldn’t push off with any power,” he said.
The Mariners couldn’t figure out A’s starter Jesse Hahn for the first five innings. The young right-hander held Seattle hitless, allowing just one base runner. That ended with the four runs allowed in the sixth inning, though only one run was earned.