The Mariners had to find a way.
They couldn’t spoil the performance from Yusei Kikuchi.
They couldn’t lose a second consecutive game to the A’s in an all-important four-game series.
They had to show management that the future is now, not next season, and this is a team to invest in.
They really just needed to find a way to score a run that wasn’t off a homer.
Enter Dylan Moore and his combination of speed, aggressiveness and general “annoyingness” while on the bases to provide the go-ahead run in the seventh inning in Seattle’s eventual 4-3 victory Friday over Oakland at T-Mobile Park.
The Mariners improved to 52-46 to move back to 3.5 games behind the A’s (56-43) in the race for the second AL wild-card spot. Seattle is 21-8 in one-run games this season, the best record in baseball.
With tough left-hander Jake Diekman on the mound for Oakland, Moore was called to pinch-hit for the lefty-swinging Jake Bauers with two outs in the seventh. He hit a soft ground ball to the right side of the infield, beating out an awkward throw from second baseman Tony Kemp for an infield single. Moore immediately stole second base with ease to move into scoring position, leaving Diekman visibly irritated.
That disgust perhaps led to back-to-back pitches in the dirt to Shed Long Jr. that got past catcher Sean Murphy, allowing Moore to advance to third and then score the go-ahead run.
“I try to keep that annoyingness level up for the other team for sure,” Moore said. “I think it opens up a lot. I’m a big believer in the stolen base. It’s gone down a little bit overall in the game, but I’m a big believer that it can disrupt the defense, disrupt a pitcher and make something happen that might not have been happening during the game.”
Seattle’s bullpen made Moore’s manufactured run hold up.
With a one-run lead, right-hander Paul Sewald, who had already pitched out of a bases-loaded jam with a big strikeout in the seventh, worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Kendall Graveman pitched a scoreless ninth, working around a one-out walk by striking out Seth Brown and Kemp to notch his 10th save.
“We play a lot of close games, and Oakland does as well,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said, who got his 400th victory. “These are great experiences for young players. You have to go through those experiences, and you’ll learn from them. You’re not always going to come through, but the value of that with where we’re at with our club it’s so important as we continue to move forward, not just in this season but well beyond. These players are gonna be here for a while.”
Almost as important as getting the victory was having Kikuchi re-establish his dominance.
He pitched six innings, allowing three runs on six hits with a walk and a career-high 12 strikeouts. Kikuchi is just the fourth left-handed Mariners starter to strike out 12 or more in a game.
The other four: James Paxton (once), Mark Langston (nine times) and Randy Johnson (48 times). So Kikuchi has some work to do to catch the Big Unit.
“That’s what we were used to seeing many, many times in the first half,” Servais said. “And he had it going tonight. He had great stuff.”
After dealing with an illness and then the All-Star break, Kikuchi finally was able to get back to his normal week of preparation. And during that time he turned his focus to a pitch previously used for only certain occasions — the change-up.
“From that last outing to today, I really spent a lot of time working on that change-up,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “I felt like I had a good feel for it today.”
With his fastball touching 97 mph, but generally ranging from 93-95 mph, Kikuchi had the velocity that was missing from his previous two starts. He offset that with the change-up he learned from former Mariner Hisashi Iwakuma that features a split-finger fastball grip. Kikuchi threw it like a splitfinger with a nasty, sinking motion and threw it often — 29 times. It generated 12 swings and misses, including nine with two strikes for strikeouts.
“Obviously, eight of their nine guys are right-handed hitters,” Kikuchi said. “So that did play a small part in why I did throw a lot of change-ups today. But the bigger reason was probably because this was my second time facing this lineup this year. And early on in the game, I felt like they were really on the cutter. And so I went to the change-up tonight.”
The Mariners grabbed a 3-0 lead against the A’s and big right-hander Frankie Montas in the second inning.
Making his first start behind the plate since Tuesday when he notched his first big-league hit, his first big-league extra-base hit — a line-drive double — and first runs batted in on that double, Cal Raleigh mashed the second pitch he saw from Montas — a 96-mph fastball — sending it off the facing of the second deck in deep right-center for this first big-league home run.
The two-run blast had a 113-mph exit velocity and traveled 444 feet, per MLB Statcast.
“An absolute bomb,” Servais said. “We’ve seen guys hit it off the cafe windows there, but not that far into the gap as far as he hit that ball.”
Raleigh still has the rookie shyness when it comes to discussing his exploits.
“I had some guys tell me it hit the second deck, but I’m not sure,” he said. “I was just kind of numb. I knew it was gone. I don’t think I took my time around the bases. I don’t think I even knew what I was doing. But it was fun. Just to give us a lead was great. It was a big moment. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
Luis Torrens followed Raleigh with a solo homer. It wasn’t quite the prodigious blast as Raleigh’s shot. The right-handed-hitting Torrens stayed on a slider, sending it just over the wall in right field for his 12th homer of the season.
It would be the only three runs allowed by Montas. He struck out the next three batters to end the second inning and then retired 12 of the next 14 hitters from the third through the seventh inning. He finished with four hits allowed, a walk and 10 strikeouts.
Kikuchi was far from perfect. He left pitches over the middle to Matt Chapman in the third and Matt Olson in the fourth. Both resulted in solo homers past right-center field.
Oakland tied the game in the fifth when Seattle’s defense broke down. Ty France failed to turn what appeared to be a certain inning-ending double play on Jacob Wilson’s one-out ground ball. With two outs, Mark Canha ripped a double into the left-field corner. The A’s gambled and tried to score Wilson from first on the play. He should’ve been out, but Raleigh couldn’t catch J.P. Crawford’s one-hop relay throw that reached home before Wilson even started sliding.