Seattle trimmed the A’s lead for the second wild card down to 4 1/2 games. A win Sunday would narrow it to 3 1/2 games with a three-game series vs. the Orioles — the worst team in baseball — to follow at Safeco Field.
OAKLAND, Calif. — A four-game sweep would’ve been the ideal for the Mariners and their postseason hopes as they entered the final month of the season. But it also seemed pretty unrealistic. A four-game sweep of even the worst team in baseball is difficult, but to take four in a row from the A’s — a team that’s been consistently outperforming them since mid-June — didn’t seem plausible.
But by eking out an 8-7 win over Oakland on Saturday night, the Mariners can go for a series win Sunday afternoon, which would certainly help erase some of the frustration from their two-game stink-fest in San Diego, but more importantly keep their postseason hopes from flatlining.
“We’re still in the race,” said starter James Paxton.
With the win, Seattle trimmed the A’s lead for the second wild card to 4 1/2 games. A win Sunday would narrow it to 3 1/2 games with a three-game series against the Orioles — the worst team in baseball — to follow at Safeco Field while the A’s face the Yankees for three games.
Seattle’s 76th win wasn’t easy, though it should have been much less difficult. But this team has shown all season that it can take the simple and make it complicated with disturbing ease. The Mariners led 8-1 going to the bottom of the fifth inning and then somehow allowed the game to devolve into a nail-biting, stomach-churning victory.
“Just the way we like them — one-run games — it’s the only way we can play them,” manager Scott Servais said, offering a joke that caused him more pain than laughter elicited. “It was a good ballgame, but it got a little tight at the end.”
A little tight?
There are saves, and there is what Edwin Diaz had to do to notch No. 51 — recording four outs by the smallest possible margin, a situation he helped create.
The problems started in the bottom of the eighth when Alex Colome entered with the Mariners leading 8-3. Having not pitched in four days, the Mariners needed to get Colome some work. It wasn’t the leverage situation that he is accustomed to, but he turned it into one in agonizing fashion.
Colome served up a solo homer to Khris Davis — the first batter he faced. He then proceeded to load the bases with one out on an assortment of walks and singles. After striking out pinch hitter Dustin Fowler for the second out of the inning, Servais called on Diaz, who was also on four days rest, to get the final out of the eighth.
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“Colome and Diaz were going to pitch tonight regardless,” Servais said. “They hadn’t been out there in a while. And you are always a little nervous — are they going to be sharp or not. Obviously Colome wasn’t quite on, but he got that big strike and we thought it was best to go to Eddie at that point.”
Diaz didn’t get that final out without damage. Marcus Semien jumped on a gutted first-pitch slider, ripping a line drive into left-center. Two runs scored easily while Denard Span misplayed the ball to allow another run to score. The 8-3 lead was now 8-7.
“I left a slider in the middle and he was ready for it,” Diaz said. “I wanted to throw it down and away.”
Said Servais: “It was probably the only bad pitch Eddie threw on the night.”
Perhaps since he’s so used to working in one-run games, Diaz shrugged off the diminished deficit and came back to strike out Matt Chapman to end the eighth.
“That’s a tough spot to come in,” Servais said. “The game is on the line and he left a pitch up. But often times as we’ve seen, if Eddie gives up a big hit, he keeps it together and that’s what you have to do it.”
Diaz made it a little interesting in the ninth, walking Jed Lowrie to start the inning. But with the tying run on first and the winning run represented in the batter’s box, he came back to strike out Davis, Stephen Piscotty and Matt Olson to secure a win that was anything but certain.
“It’s a game we needed to have tonight,” Servais said. “We have to come back tomorrow and finish the series.”
The Mariners are now 60-0 in games where Diaz enters with a lead.
Seattle welcomed back Paxton to their rotation after his stint on the disabled list. It was in this decaying relic known as the Oakland Coliseum that Paxton was forced onto the DL after taking a line drive off his left forearm Aug. 15. He returned to give the Mariners a solid, if not efficient outing, pitching five innings, allowing three runs on two hits with four walks and 10 strikeouts to improve to 11-5 on the season.
“I felt good,” he said. “I was a little rusty with my location and my timing, but my stuff was good. I just kind of shotgunned sprayed the zone with not very good command. But I came out of it healthy, which was the number one priority.”
The A’s shuffled their starting pitching situation about 24 hours before the game, deciding to follow the Rays’ strategy and use an opener — reliever Liam Hendriks, who was one of eight players called up with roster expansion — instead of scheduled starter Daniel Mengden.
The decision didn’t provide expected results. Hendriks worked a scoreless first inning and then exited the second with runners on first and second and two outs. His replacement — situational lefty Daniel Coulombe — gave up a line drive rocket to right-center off the bat of left-handed hitting Ben Gamel, allowing the Mariners to take a 2-0 lead.
“Fortunately, I’ve seen Coulombe a couple of times,” Gamel said. “I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and he left a slider up.”
Mengden finally got to take the mound to start the third inning. The delayed aspect of his outing and his teammates’ defense did him no favors.
The Mariners greeted him with three runs in the the third. Robinson Cano scored on Denard Span’s single to center that was bobbled by center fielder Ramon Laureano for an error. Ryon Healy hit a towering pop up to shallow right field that second baseman Lowrie called for and then didn’t catch, allowing another run to score. Kyle Seager smoked a line drive off the wall in right that wasn’t going to score a run because of a poor read by Span. But Lowrie mishandled the cutoff throw from right field and Span raced home to make it 5-1.
The Mariners added another run in the fourth off Mengden and scored two more in the fifth off right-hander Cory Gearrin on Jean Segura’s two-run single up the middle that made it 8-1.
Paxton gave two of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, walking Laureano and then serving up a two-run homer to Mark Canha. He then walked Chapman and Lowrie with two outs before striking out Davis to end his outing.
“I got through it,” Paxton said. “And the guys did a good job of putting runs up.”