The Mariners had imagined a day like this, pounding out a bounty of runs, laughing and relaxing in the dugout, savoring the good weather...
It wasn’t his rediscovered focus on the mound that did it for Felix Hernandez. It wasn’t Adrian Beltre’s clutch bases-clearing double in the third inning, either. It wasn’t even Jose Guillen’s towering two-run home run in the fourth inning.
No, the topic that brought the biggest smile to Hernandez — the one that sparkled as bright as his diamond earrings after a 7-1 victory Friday night over Oakland — was defense. Specifically, Beltre’s diving stop on a ground ball with two outs in the top of the sixth inning.
The bases loaded with Oakland A’s, the momentum still teetering, Beltre laid out to his left, sprang to his feet with the ball and fired to first to throw out Donnie Murphy.
Hernandez responded by shouting, pumping his arm and slapping his glove. As Beltre ran to the dugout, Hernandez intercepted him, yelling, “Attaboy! That’s why you play the game!”
Most Read Sports Stories
- Russell Wilson's cooking days are over, as long as Pete Carroll remains the Seahawks' coach
- By backing Raphael Warnock against Kelly Loeffler, Sue Bird and the WNBA helped flip the Senate
- Analysis: Before hiring offensive coordinator, Seahawks' Pete Carroll must meet Russell Wilson in the middle
- The 2022 PGA Championship will no longer be played at Trump National Golf Club. Could it come to Sahalee Country Club instead?
- Report: Seahawks speak with former Eagles coach Doug Pederson about offensive-coordinator job
“I was so excited,” Hernandez said. “That was an unbelievable play.”
It was that kind of night for the Mariners, who rekindled their fire, beat up a soft-tossing rookie pitcher and finally stopped the bleeding on a season-worst seven-game losing streak.
“We needed it big,” Beltre said.
The victory, in front of 37,643 at Safeco Field, kept the Mariners four games behind American League West-leading Los Angeles. Seattle also kept pace with Cleveland in the wild-card race.
“It feels good, feels real good,” Mariners manager John McLaren said. “I feel good for the players because … they’ve been trying so hard. Maybe we can get back in the groove and relax and start playing our brand of baseball.”
The Mariners had imagined a night like this, pounding out a bounty of runs, laughing and joking in the dugout, savoring the great weather and a comfortable win. They had sweated through four straight one-run losses in Texas during the losing streak.
The vision started becoming a reality in the bottom of the third. Beltre broke the ice in a crucial at-bat with two outs and the bases loaded. The Mariners were trailing 1-0, and the machinations of another tense evening seemed to be in the works.
The crowd chanted and rocked, demanding results. A train roared in the background. After battling Athletics starter Dallas Braden to a 3-2 count, Beltre squeezed a three-run double down the third-base line.
McLaren said he felt his team’s collective relief right there.
Beltre entered the game with four doubles and five runs batted in in his last eight at-bats. It was a test tube-sized hot streak, but still a big enough sample that McLaren penciled Beltre into the cleanup spot.
Beltre’s hit capped a two-out rally that started with an Ichiro walk and a Jose Vidro single. Marco Scutaro had misplayed a Guillen grounder at third base, loading the bases.
The Mariners piled on four more in the bottom of the fourth. The slumping Kenji Johjima led off with a single, advanced to second on a Jose Lopez sacrifice and scored on an opposite-field bloop single by Ichiro.
Vidro kept the momentum going with an RBI single to right, scoring Ichiro.
Then Guillen mashed the backbreaker, a slow, majestic moon shot that finally landed in the upper deck in left field and gave the Mariners a 7-1 lead.
“That’s why they got me here, help this team to win,” Guillen said. “They don’t bring me here just to look at my beautiful face.”
It was showers soon after for Braden, who lasted four innings in his seventh major-league start.
Hernandez gave up at least one hit to Oakland in five of his seven innings, and seven hits overall. But aided by a fastball that consistently reached 98 mph and his defense playing great behind him, Hernandez pitched out of trouble again and again, keeping the momentum on Seattle’s side.
His only real mistake came against Nick Swisher, who hit a first-inning solo shot.
Hernandez helped himself with a great defensive play in the top of the seventh, jumping high to snag a Travis Buck bouncer up the middle — ignoring a big shard of broken bat — and throwing him out.
With the win, Hernandez (7-6) seemed to take a big step back from the mental meltdown of his last start. In that July 22 start at Toronto, he failed to get a strikeout call with the bases loaded in a scoreless game, lost his cool, then gave up five runs on the next two pitches.
Hernandez, who threw 120 pitches Friday and struck out seven, talked at length about the need to keep his focus in adversity. He said he might also have been motivated by a bet with his fiancé: If he lost, he’d go blond.
Regardless, it showed. After giving Seattle a 3-1 lead, Beltre told Hernandez to pitch like those were the only runs he was going to get.
“I wanted him to get that mentality,” Beltre explained. “I wanted him to think he’s working with just those two runs, so he can concentrate on making sure to get those guys out.”
And Hernandez shut the door from there on out.
Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or firstname.lastname@example.org