OAKLAND, Calif. — For at least one victory, there was no late-inning drama to turn Scott Servais’ and the fan base’s insides into an amusement park.
Mariners hitters didn’t need to grind out plate appearances against a late-inning leverage reliever trying to get the go-ahead or tying run on bases. Seattle relievers weren’t being asked to tightrope along without allowing a run.
Nope, there was less drama than philosophy lecture.
And it all felt so unfamiliar on a sun-drenched Tuesday afternoon in the cavernous and largely empty Oakland Coliseum.
The Mariners got a solid outing from right-hander Chris Flexen, who worked through early trouble to produce another quality start, took an early lead by the third inning, added to that lead in later innings and closed out the eight-game road trip with a decisive 5-1 win over the A’s.
If Seattle’s crazy back-and-forth, extra-innings win over the Rangers early in the road trip, left Servais choked up and fighting back tears of pride, certainly this victory should’ve had him welling up with tears of joyous but likely brief certitude.
“Why do you gotta do that?” he said with a laugh.
But even the players enjoyed the reprieve from the chaos of emotions in the late innings.
“That’s a good feeling,” said Tom Murphy, who had two hits and a run. “As a catcher, I know that it’s a little more relaxing, not that you’d let your guard down, but it’s one of those things where you can really attack guys as opposed to trying to pitch with damage control.”
The Mariners wrapped up the road trip with a 6-2 record and improve to 69-58 on the season. Being 11 games over .500 is the high-water mark of the season. The A’s have lost eight of their past 10 games and their past five games against the Mariners, who now lead the season series with an 8-4 record.
“A heck of a trip, we go 6-2 and, as I say all that, somebody just told me our run differential was minus-9 on this trip, but our fun differential was about plus-90,” Servais said referencing the 35 runs scored and 44 runs allowed in the eight games — skewed heavily by the 12-3 and 15-1 losses to Houston. “So we’re going to go with that. And we’re going to ride that one a little bit.”
Seattle sits a game behind the A’s in the American League wild-card standings and 2½ games behind the Red Sox, who were to play later Tuesday.
Both Seattle and Oakland have Wednesday off. The Mariners open a four-game series with the Royals on Thursday at T-Mobile Park, while the A’s will host the white-hot Yankees for a four-game series at the Oakland Coliseum
“We didn’t look good today,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “This is the wrong time to go in a slump.”
Flexen pitched into the seventh inning while picking up his 11th win but couldn’t quite finish it. He allowed a two-out double to Elvis Andrus and then walked Mark Canha, which left him seething on the mound as Servais came out to take the ball from his starter.
Right-hander Drew Steckenrider, who has served as part-time closer, got the high-leverage situation with Starling Marte coming to the plate. Steckenrider needed all of one pitch to end the drama. Marte tried to ambush a 96-mph fastball on the first pitch. It leaked in on his hands, and he hit a weak fly ball to right field for the final out of the inning.
Flexen’s final line — 6 2/3 innings, one run allowed on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts — with 105 pitches (66 strikes) thrown in the outing.
“I could go on and on about all the different players who stepped up throughout the trip, but none bigger than Chris Flexen today,” Servais said. “He’s been really good for us the whole season. We’ve just continued to see his stuff get even better, going through that lineup the way he did today. It was a day that we were very light in the bullpen. He needed to get deep, and he did.”
With an 11-4 record on the season and a 3.54 ERA in 24 starts, while never missing a turn, Flexen has been Seattle’s best starter. But the A’s have given him problems in his previous two outings against them. He was 0-2 with a 5.56 ERA against them this season, allowing 13 hits in 11 1/3 innings.
“Yeah, I mean, they’ve gotten me a couple times before,” he said. “It’s a chess match. … It’s always a back-and-forth battle trying to figure those guys out throughout the game.”
Down 1-0 after the first inning, Seattle tied the game in the second inning on Jarred Kelenic’s RBI single to the right off A’s starter Cole Irving.
The Mariners grabbed the lead for good in the third inning. With two outs, Kyle Seager singled to right and Abraham Toro doubled to right to bring up Luis Torrens. Torrens smoked a single into right to score both runs for a 3-1 lead.
The Mariners picked up two runs in the eighth. Kelenic ripped an RBI double off the wall in deep-right center on a breaking ball from A.J. Puk. Dylan Moore followed with an RBI single up the middle.
Steckenrider pitched the final 2 1/3 innings of the game, allowing two hits and giving his fellow relievers a day off, to pick up the save.