The Mariners’ postseason dreams ended Sunday, but not by their own doing.
Seattle was in the middle of polishing off what would eventually be a 4-1 victory over the Angels before a crowd of 40,823 at Safeco Field when A’s pitcher Sonny Gray closed out his 4-0 shutout over the Rangers in Arlington, Texas. With the Oakland win, the Athletics secured the second wild-card berth in the AL and Seattle was eliminated.
Of course, there was still a game to finish, a game in which the Mariners got just enough offense to go with good starting pitching and solid bullpen work — the recipe for their success all season. Seattle finished 87-75 — an improvement of 16 wins from 2013 and its most since 2007. But the Mariners were still a game away from forcing a play-in game with the A’s for the wild-card spot.
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Any number of close or frustrating losses could be recalled that might have changed the team’s fortunes.
“You can always say could’ve, would’ve, should’ve,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “But we probably should’ve lost a few also. It just was not in the cards for us. I think this was a tremendous step forward for this club.”
After being officially eliminated, Sunday became a celebration of what the Mariners had accomplished and where they are going.
After fans gave the team a standing ovation in the fifth inning when the Oakland game went final, the next and most important ovation came for starting pitcher Felix Hernandez. For five innings, he gave a glimpse of what he might pitch like in a postseason game.
In the biggest start of his career, Hernandez dominated the Angels for the first five innings, allowing just one hit — a first-inning, broken-bat bloop single to Albert Pujols — and striking out seven batters. He wore a stone-faced look of pure concentration from the moment the Mariners won Saturday night.
“You saw my face when I was pitching today,” Hernandez said. “This was it. This was my game.”
The A’s took his game from him. But that didn’t matter. He wanted to keep pitching.
Even with the A’s clinching the title, Hernandez jogged out to the mound to start the sixth inning. But it was clear that his day and season would be over soon.
“I said I want to face one batter and strike him out,” Hernandez said.
He didn’t get the strikeout. Instead C.J. Cron grounded out to short and that was it. McClendon sauntered from the dugout and the crowd rose in recognition of the moment.
On the mound, Hernandez hugged his teammates and saved the longest hug for McClendon; tears were forming at the corners of his eyes. Though he denied it.
“Kind of,” he said. “They were starting to.”
The Safeco Field crowd roared in appreciation. Hernandez removed his cap and lifted it high above his head in acknowledgement. It wasn’t the playoffs, but it was special.
“That was awesome,” Hernandez said. “I just have to say thanks to the fans for all their support all year. I love being here. I love the fans.”
With the performance, Hernandez improved to 15-6 for the season, while winning the American League earned-run average crown at 2.14, just ahead of Chris Sale at 2.17. It was the second time in his career to win the honor. He is the leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young award.
Later in the inning, Brad Miller trotted onto the field to replace Robinson Cano. The crowd again stood and applauded.
Cano finished the season batting a team-high .314 to go with 37 doubles, 14 homers, 82 runs batted in and an .836 OPS. But his contributions extended beyond the field. His presence in a clubhouse full of inexperienced players was immense.
When he signed with the Mariners, questions about his leadership ability arose from New York. Cano answered those critics.
“It was a great experience,” Cano said of his first year. “From the beginning of the year, we fought to the end. A lot of people doubted that we would be here. It’s sad that we have to go home.”
Before the season, McClendon asked his two stars to buy into his message and philosophy and be the leaders everyone expected and more.
They did. The standing ovations and exits were McClendon’s way of thanking them.
“I just thought that our fans should have an opportunity to thank them for the tremendous years both of them have had,” McClendon said. “I thought our fans were just tremendous in that respect. Both of those guys grinded it out all year. They’re big-time players and I thought they deserved it.”
The Mariners got their four runs on two RBI doubles from Michael Saunders and a two-run single from Mike Zunino. The bullpen, which had been stellar all season, gave up a throw-away run late. But when Danny Farquhar got Grant Green to ground out to first to end the game, it solidified a 3.17 team ERA for the season, breaking the club record set in 2001.
|Oakland’s scenic route to the playoffs|
|On Aug. 9, Oakland was leading the American League West by four games and had an 11-game lead on the Mariners. The Angels zoomed past them to win the AL West while the Athletics barely hung on to a playoff spot.|
|L.A. Angels||68-48||30-16||98-64, first in AL West|
|Oakland||72-44||16-30||88-74, wild-card berth|
|Mariners||61-55||26-20||87-75, third in AL West|
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or email@example.com