The Mariners celebrated a victory on the field. The A’s celebrated something more significant in the clubhouse.
Down a run going into the bottom of the ninth inning and facing Oakland’s hard-throwing closer Liam Hendriks, the Mariners pulled off a stunning 4-3 victory Friday night ending with J.P. Crawford’s walkoff double to left field that scored Shed Long from first with the winning run.
“Really good effort by our guys,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “We keep grinding away. It was nice to see the young guys come through in those situations. We are playing against a team that has a lot to play for right now, but our guys have a lot to play for, too. They are trying to prove themselves.”
The Mariners players spilled from the dugout and tried to mob Crawford, who was running away from them.
Seattle got a one-out single from Mallex Smith, who then moved up two bases thanks to wild pitches. With two outs, Long, who looked overwhelmed against Hendriks the night before, fought off multiple strikeout-type pitches to punch a single up the middle to tie the game and set up Crawford’s heroics.
“He has electric stuff,” Crawford said. “You know you are going to get one or two pitches to hit. I was just trying to stay on the heater.”
The A’s wandered back into the visitors’ clubhouse where a spread of Champagne, Budweiser and victory cigars awaited them to celebrate their postseason berth. Any disappointment of the defeat quickly was replaced by the beautiful chaos of a party.
Oakland might have lost this minor battle, but won the overall war. The A’s are going to the playoffs. The Mariners, well, we know that familiar story.
When Cleveland lost to Washington earlier in the day, it meant A’s had clinched a spot in the American League wild-card game along with the Tampa Bay Rays, who reserved a spot with a victory over the Blue Jays in Toronto.
Now the only question remains is which substandard stadium will be the host of the game Wednesday?
The A’s magic number for home-field advantage is two. Either two more victories or a win and a Tampa loss secures the situation.
While the Mariners have failed to make the postseason since 2001, this will be the eighth time Oakland has qualified for the playoffs in that span. The Rays have made it five times since 2008.
If this feels familiar, well, it happened here last year as well. The A’s clinched their spot in the wild-card game in Seattle and celebrated on the field and off while the Mariners could only watch and think about an opportunity that was partially given away to the A’s.
And with both the A’s and Rays having 96 victories this season, the Mariners’ decision to disassemble their aging roster from last season and go for a rebuild instead of trying to find a way to end a playoff drought for one more season seems prescient.
It’s difficult to see the 89-victory team of last year winning eight more games in 2019.
Rookie left-hander Justus Sheffield made his final start of the 2019 season. It was an outing indicative of what he could be, and the issues that are holding him back from reaching his potential.
Sheffield needed 96 pitches to get through five innings, while allowing one run on five hits with four walks and just one strikeout. His pitches had life, movement and velocity. What they didn’t have was consistent accuracy or command.
His fourth pitch of the game — a 93-mph fastball directly over the middle of the plate — was hammered off the top of the electronic scoreboard in deep left-center by Marcus Semien for a leadoff homer. Semien’s 33rd homer of the season measured 425 feet per MLB Statcast. It was an impressive blast considering the temperature on one of the truly cold nights of the fall season.
But that would be the only run Sheffield allowed. He had plenty of base runners, though, somehow wiggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the second and more traffic in the fourth and fifth innings.
Following Semien’s early homer, the Mariners tied the game immediately in the bottom of the first against A’s starter Mike Fiers. Crawford worked a walk, advanced to second on Austin Nola’s single, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Kyle Seager’s ground ball.
Seattle took the lead in the third inning on Nola’s double to left field, scoring Long from second. It was Seattle’s first lead of any sort in 37 innings of baseball.
The lead was maintained until the seventh. Right-handed reliever Zac Grotz gave up a one-out single to Matt Chapman. Wanting to test Taylor Guilbeau in a left-on-left situation, Servais brought in the young rookie to face Oakland’s All-Star first baseman Matt Olson. The confrontation went to Olson, who hammered a fastball over the wall in left field for a two-run homer and a 3-2 lead.