OAKLAND, Calif. — They’ve been in must-win mode since embarking on this final road trip. If their improbable postseason dream is to be realized, the Mariners’ best way to overcome the long odds against them is to win every game and let the rest sort itself out.
When they walked on the pristine playing surface of the otherwise decrepit Oakland Coliseum, facing another team still holding postseason hopes, the Mariners understood that a win Wednesday night was imperative.
With the Blue Jays losing to the Rays earlier in the day, the A’s and Mariners knew they could trim Toronto’s AL wild-card lead to two games and move a game ahead of each other in the standings.
Perhaps in past years that sort of pregame knowledge would have been detrimental, but this group of Mariners that “competes their asses off” embraced the situation, riding the strong starting pitching of Chris Flexen and enough run support led by Kyle Seager to pick up a 4-1 victory.
“The (Blue Jays) game is on obviously in the clubhouse, you’re watching it,” manager Scott Servais said. “You see it on the out-of-town scoreboard when you go into the ballpark, it’s up there. So we certainly understand that. You don’t try any harder. You don’t really play any different. But you know what can happen; if you somehow pull this one out, we get a little bit closer. And that’s what the focus is here.”
The Mariners (83-69) sit 2.5 games behind the Yankees, who moved into the second wild-card spot with a 7-3 win over the Rangers. Toronto (85-67) sits two ahead of Seattle, and Oakland (82-70) dropped a game back.
Though the focus is on the postseason, that the win came against A’s left-hander Cole Irvin made it a little sweeter.
After Irvin lamented giving up 10 hits to the Mariners in their first meeting this season, derisively referring to them as “a team like that,” Seattle has taken great pride in pasting his pitches in the games that followed. Yes, baseball players hold petty grudges and use them as motivation.
In four starts vs. the Mariners this season, Irvin is 0-4 with a 7.56 ERA. He has allowed 14 runs on 29 hits in 16 2/3 innings. The Mariners have a .372/.430/.513 slash line against him.
Seager started the fourth inning with a solo homer to deep center to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. It was his 35th homer of the season and gave him a career-high 100 RBI this season. He is the ninth player in team history to tally 35 homers and 100 RBI in a season. The last to do it was Nelson Cruz in 2016 and 2017.
Seattle tacked on another run in the inning on a Tom Murphy RBI single. Ty France made it 3-0 with a solo homer off Irvin to start the fifth.
The three runs scored on seven hits off Irvin were actually less than Seattle’s usual damage against him.
During a season in which he has been the Mariners’ most consistent starting pitcher and perhaps the steal of last offseason’s free-agent class, Flexen added yet another strong outing to his portfolio.
Making his 29th start, the lanky right-hander pitched seven innings, allowing one run on three hits with two walks and eight strikeouts to improve to 13-6 and lower his ERA to 3.56. It was his eighth start of seven-plus innings and one run or fewer allowed. He knew the Blue Jays had lost when he stepped on the mound.
“I think it comes down to not getting ahead of yourself,” Flexen said. “We had to focus on what was happening in the moment for us. The stuff that’s happening outside our game, we could deal with that after. We were focused on winning tonight. Every time I take the ball it’s, ‘How deep can I go? How well can I put us in a situation to win?’ And go out and compete.”
Seattle is 20-9 in games started by Flexen.
“He’s been outstanding,” Servais said. “I can say it about a few players in that clubhouse right now — we would not be in this spot without their efforts and what they’ve given us this year, but maybe none bigger than, than Flex.”
The one run allowed came in the fifth inning with the Mariners having already provided that 3-0 lead. After falling behind 2-0 to Matt Chapman, Flexen battled back to even the count at 2-2. After failing to get a swing and miss on a low fastball, Flexen left a fastball in the heart of the plate that Chapman crushed over the wall in deep center.
After retiring the next three hitters, the ever-intense Flexen cursed himself for the mistake during his entire walk from the mound to the dugout.
The self-directed tongue-lashing worked. Flexen worked 1-2-3 frames in the sixth and the seventh.
With Paul Sewald used in the first two games of the series, Servais turned to Diego Castillo in the eighth and Drew Steckenrider to finish the game. They both pitched scoreless frames to secure the win.