The Mariners’ Chris Flexen and the Oakland Athletics’ Sean Manaea were locked in a good pitchers’ duel and it became clear after a few innings that it might take a little bit of luck to score the game’s first run off one of the starters.
Oakland got some luck — and a mistake from the Mariners — to score the game’s first run in the fifth inning and went on to a 4-1 win Thursday night at T-Mobile Park in the opener of a seven-game homestand.
The Mariners (51-46) lost their second straight game and fell 4 1/2 games behind Oakland, which is in second place in the AL West behind Houston. The Mariners play the A’s the next three games before hosting the Astros for three games.
“Not the way we wanted to start the series tonight against the A’s,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “They dominated the zone tonight and beat us at our own game.”
Flexen was cruising until the fifth inning when Elvis Andrus hit a two-out blooper just over second baseman Dylan Moore’s head into right field. Flexen should have been out of the inning when the next hitter, Mark Canha, hit a grounder behind the second-base bag that Moore booted.
It was ruled an infield hit, but it certainly looked like a play Moore should have made.
Ramon Laureano followed with a grounder up the middle that was again heading toward Moore, but it bounced off Flexen’s leg before it got there and bounded left for a run-scoring infield single.
“It was a key play in the game, no question about it,” Servais said about the ball that Moore couldn’t handle. “D-Mo usually does make that play and he has been outstanding for us defensively all season. Backhand play, you’ve got to set your foot and make a strong throw. …
“You get a ground ball and you think you get out of it and it didn’t work out that way, and the next ball goes off Flexen for their first run. It is a play that D-Mo probably makes nine out of 10 times. Not an easy one but one he usually makes.”
That was good fortune for the Athletics, who didn’t need a lot of that with Manaea pitching. The left-hander shut out the Mariners 6-0 on four hits June 2 at T-Mobile Park.
The Mariners had to feel good about their starter entering the game. Flexen has perhaps been the Mariners’ best starter this season. He’s unquestionably been the team’s most effective starter the past month, going 4-0 over his past six starts with an earned-run average of 1.36.
Both starters were on top of their games for the most part Thursday night, but did it in different ways. Manaea overwhelmed Mariners hitters, using mostly his fastball and slider, and struck out a career-high 13.
Flexen, by contrast, was pitching to contact with just one strikeout in the game, but it was working well until the fifth inning, when he got unlucky. He didn’t seem the same in the sixth, allowing a run on back-to-back one-out doubles that ended his night.
Flexen allowed two runs on six hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings, but surely deserved a better fate.
“I thought Chris threw the ball really well, I really did,” Servais said.
Said Flexen: “I thought overall it was a solid game. Kept it close and gave us a chance to win.”
The Mariners finally tagged Manaea for a run in the seventh when Tom Murphy led off with his eighth homer of the season. But Manaea got through the rest of the inning, striking out two more along the way.
Manaea allowed one on three hits and three walks before exiting after the seventh inning.
“I thought Manaea was outstanding and probably as good as we have ever seen him,” Servais said. “A really good fastball, great command of the slider and curveball and threw the changeup whenever he wanted to. You have to tip your cap to him.”
Despite Manaea’s good work, the Mariners were trailing by just a run at 2-1 heading to the eighth inning, but Seattle reliever Rafael Montero could not keep it that way.
The A’s scored two runs on three hits and a walk off Montero, who saw his season ERA rise to 7.27.
“They put the ball in play and we didn’t,” Servais said.