Three homers provided the Mariners enough firepower for a 5-2 victory over the Orioles, but they remained 5 1/2 games behind Oakland, which smacked New York 8-2.
The embarrassment of losing a series to the worst team in baseball was avoided. The anemic offense produced five runs on the night and it felt like 15 runs in the dugout. A one-run lead was successfully maintained through the seventh inning and even added upon. All of that allowed the Mariners to hope and dream of the postseason just a little longer with a 5-2 win over the Orioles on Wednesday night at Safeco Field.
Still, Seattle didn’t actually gain any ground in the race for the second wild card. The A’s crushed the Yankees, 8-2, in Oakland and maintained a 5½-game lead.
So while the Mariners didn’t lose another game in the race, they lost another day. And that’s basically the same. Seattle (78-62) has 22 games and the A’s (84-57) have 21 games remaining. The Mariners would need to trim that lead to two or three games before they meet Oakland on Sept. 24-26 at Safeco Field.
Seattle got a solid start from veteran right-hander Mike Leake and back-to-back home runs from Nelson Cruz and Denard Span in a pivotal fifth inning to take a lead that wouldn’t be lost.
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But the Mariners still need to raise their level of play. They still committed three errors in one inning and did little offensively for the first four innings. And that won’t work against the Yankees, who come to town on Friday for a three-game series.
“It was kind of like watching two different games,” manager Scott Servais said. “The first first four and a half innings were a little sluggish and certainly the top of the fifth wasn’t pretty for us defensively, but Mike Leake without his real ‘A’ game, made pitches and did all the little things.”
Leake pitched six innings, allowing just two runs that were unearned on seven hits with no walks and four strikeouts to improve to 9-9 and earn his first win since June 23.
“It’s nice to get him a win,” Servais said. “He’s thrown some good games that we’ve not converted into wins for him.”
Leake had taken six no decisions and five losses in his previous 11 starts. Did it wear on him?
“Not really, in a way it does because we aren’t winning games,” he said. “But I’ve never really looked at my wins and losses since I’ve played baseball.”
The Orioles’ two runs off Leake came in a fifth inning that won’t be used when putting together highlight reels for the Mariners’ defense in 2018.
After allowing a one-out double to Cedric Mullins, Leake got Jonathan Villar to hit a chopper up the middle. Shortstop Jean Segura fielded the play but his throw was a little off. Robinson Cano, who won’t be confused with John Olerud at first base, made an awkward attempt to snare the catchable throw, but failed. It allowed Mullins to race home and tie the score at 1. Cano’s inexperience at first base was evident on the play. And he was charged with an error.
“That’s probably a ball Robbie should catch,” Servais said. “I think he stretched too early or got locked up. Things like that are going to happen, but you are still surprised because Robbie is a heck of player no matter where you put him on the field.”
With two outs, Segura mishandled Adam Jones’ hard one-hopper right at him. The ball ricocheted off his glove and into the outfield, allowing Villar to score from second for a 2-1 lead.
The Mariners committed an error on the next batter as Dee Gordon made a difficult stop in the outfield grass. But his low throw also wasn’t handled by Cano.
The two plays and the general level of obvious discomfort at first base that Cano has shown in his return is a sign that moving him to the position full time in 2019 might not be so simple despite the wishes of some fans.
“We have to be creative and keep moving guys around to keep guys in the lineup,” Servais said of the present. “You are going to have a miscue here or there, but there were some other miscues behind him that should not have happened. We need to play better defense behind Mike Leake. He deserved better in that inning.”
Leake got out of the inning by getting a ground ball to Kyle Seager, who fielded it cleanly and fired to first for the final out.
“I’ve had situations like that,” Leake said. “It’s learning from experience. It’s part of the game and you are going to have mistakes like that. Three in a one inning is obviously not what you want.”
Cruz and Span atoned for their teammates’ miscues in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, Cruz whacked a majestic solo homer into The ‘Pen off Orioles starter Andrew Cashner to tie the score at 2. It was Cruz’s 34th homer of the season. Cruz is now 7 for 17 off of Cashner in his career with three doubles and two homers.
“Really?” Cruz deadpanned. “I can’t explain it. It’s baseball. Sometimes you have good numbers off guys.”
Three pitches later, Span yanked a line drive over the wall in right field for his 11th homer of the season and a 3-2 lead.
“I’m never trying to hit a home run,” Span said. “I’m just trying to see the ball and barrel it up. But if it happens, it happens. He threw me a 2-0 changeup and I was able to catch it out in front.”
The Cruz homer changed the Mariners’ mindset from the mistakes in the field.
“Even though they only had a one-run lead, it felt like we were down three or four,” Span said. “When he came up and hit the homer, it definitely sparked us.”
Seattle got a scoreless top of the seventh from reliever Shawn Marshall and tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the frame. The duo of Cruz and Span combined for another run. Cruz doubled to left-center and scored on Span’s bloop single to left.
“He made a good read and had a good jump,” Span said. “He’ll surprise you sometimes.”
Guillermo Heredia executed a safety squeeze bunt to score Span to make it 5-2.
Alex Colome followed with a scoreless eighth and Edwin Diaz notched save No. 53 with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead off Cashner in the third inning. Mitch Haniger extended his hitting streak to 17 games — the longest for the Mariners this season — by swatting a solo homer to deep right-center on a hanging breaking ball. It was Haniger’s 24th homer of the season.