The Mariners took advantage of some sloppy middle relief and even sloppier fielding by the A's to turn a one-run deficit into an insurmountable lead behind Felix Hernandez
OAKLAND, Calif. — Not every day do you see a team bristling with confidence in the dugout after striking out nine times and stranding eight runners through the first five innings of a game.
But the Mariners could sense that with each battle lost against Oakland Athletics starter Trevor Cahill in Friday night’s season opener, they were winning a greater war. And indeed, all the pitches taken and base runners piled up against Cahill early on proved turning points in a 6-2 win by the Mariners.
With ace pitcher Felix Hernandez his dominant self, becoming the first Seattle pitcher ever to last nine innings on opening day, the Mariners knew the key to victory was ensuring Cahill hit the showers well before their guy did. Mariners manager Eric Wedge could sense an early exit for Cahill and kept imploring his hitters not to waste any swings.
“Wedgie was in the dugout telling us, ‘We’re knocking on the door. Keep going, keep grinding,’ ” Mariners designated hitter Jack Cust said. “We got guys on base and we got Cahill’s pitch count up. Got him out of the game. We got into the bullpen … and we got to some of those guys as well.”
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The Mariners drew seven walks in the game, and Cust got one with the bases loaded in the third to bring home the only run Cahill allowed. That halved a 2-0 lead Oakland had obtained in the first inning, when Josh Willingham took Hernandez deep to left for a two-run homer.
Cahill needed 29 pitches to get out of the third inning, then 24 more in the fourth after Seattle loaded the bases again. Two outs into the fifth, Cahill was pulled from the game with two on and his pitch count bursting at 105.
Oakland survived that inning, but Ichiro tied things up with a run-scoring single in the sixth. Chone Figgins then matched his home-run total from all of last season, clubbing a solo shot off left-handed reliever Craig Breslow to put the Mariners ahead to stay.
The way Hernandez was pitching, allowing just one single from the second inning through the seventh, that Figgins shot must have had the 36,067 fans at the Coliseum wondering if the game was already over. Many of those fans began moving toward the exits in the seventh, when the Mariners piled on three more runs, aided by two of the five errors committed by A’s fielders.
“It was awesome, man,” Hernandez said. “Like I’ve said, I think we’re going to score more runs than last year. Look at what happened. I think we’re going to be better.”
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner had watched the Mariners score six or more runs in just three of his 34 starts last season. It certainly helped that the A’s kept booting the ball around and messing up routine throws.
But when a team gets on base 20 times the way the Mariners did — with eight hits, seven walks, five A’s errors and a botched fielder’s choice at home on which catcher Kurt Suzuki was injured — it’s going to be tough to lose. The A’s were a different team once Cahill left, and folded in ugly fashion.
“You just keep getting guys on base, and guys get more comfortable hitting with guys on base,” Cust added. “When you don’t have guys on base and you finally get some, sometimes you put a little pressure on yourself. But the more you see the guys out there, you start to relax in those situations. We had some guys come through and it was good to see.”
Along with the bomb he hit off Breslow, Figgins had also helped put the early squeeze on Cahill. He notched a two-out single in the third inning with a runner on, followed by walks from Milton Bradley and Cust to get Seattle on the board.
“I think it’s just that everybody is ready to hit,” Figgins said. “When you’re ready to hit, you don’t swing at as many balls. They did strike out a few, but it was on good pitches and getting in deeper counts.”
And the A’s, as the game wore on and the runners piled up, kept pressing and making mistakes.
“I felt like we did a good job of pushing the game,” Wedge said. “That’s what we’re going to have to do. Push the ballgame offensively and try to create opportunities for ourselves.
“We didn’t take advantage of it early. But if you keep pushing, at some point you’re going to take advantage of those opportunities, and ultimately we did.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org