Felix Hernandez throws seven scoreless innings, Edwin Diaz gives up game-tying homer in the ninth to Jose Bautista, but Seattle finally ekes out a 2-1 win over Toronto in the 12th inning.
The 12-inning saga of a series finale between the Mariners and Blue Jays featured a rotating cast of temporary heroes and villains Wednesday afternoon.
For eight-plus innings — right up until the moment Toronto slugger Jose Bautista took Seattle closer Edwin Diaz deep for the game-tying home run — the story was Felix Hernandez, the ace delivering a dominant performance his Seattle team badly needed.
Mariners reliever Nick Vincent was something of an unsung protagonist, keeping Seattle in it when it looked destined to succumb to the sweep. Reserve shortstop Mike Freeman stepped into the spotlight with a diving snag that saved what would have been the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th.
And Robinson Cano sealed a face-saving victory a couple of frames later with his 12th-inning sacrifice fly, lifting the Mariners to a 2-1 victory over Toronto in front of a crowd of 39,595 at Safeco Field.
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Seattle (80-72) closed to two games of Baltimore in the American League wild-card race, which was right where they were when this 2-4 homestand started.
There was plenty in this matchup that augured doom for the hosts.
To start, there was the matter of Seattle’s rapidly fading playoff prospects despite having entered this all-important homestand having won eight in row.
Hernandez’s starts usually inspire confidence. But after an outing to forget against fellow playoff hopeful Houston last Friday — and with the specter of that start against the Blue Jays nearly two years ago to the day still lingering — even Hernandez’s presence caused a tremor of anxiety.
This was the team against which Hernandez experienced one of the lowest moments of his career on Sept. 23, 2014, when the veteran righty gave up seven runs in a single frame in Toronto with the M’s in a similar spot in another postseason chase.
Wednesday, though, Hernandez was locked in from the start. He brushed back Blue Jays, working the inside corner of the plate. His curveball was sweeping, that changeup as deceptive as ever.
Hernandez threw seven shutout innings, giving up just two hits. He walked three and struck out four. He threw 112 pitches, 64 of them for strikes.
“Everything was working,” Hernandez said, simply, before deflecting credit to batterymate Jesus Sucre.
Sucre had a banner day at the plate, too, contributing three of Seattle’s seven hits and scoring its only run before the 12th inning via Norichika Aoki’s run-scoring double in the third.
Steve Cishek followed Hernandez in the eighth, a shaky inning that required Diaz’s assistance to get the final out. The closer wasn’t so fortunate in the top of the ninth as Bautista hammered a moon shot inside the left-field foul pole to knot the game at 1-1.
At that point, a sense of deflation and acceptance of the inevitable crept into the proceedings for Mariners fans. Seattle entered the game 1-4 in a homestand it’d hoped would catapult it to the top of the wild-card standings. That record included two consecutive defeats against the Blue Jays in front of a surrealistically partisan Toronto crowd and, now, this.
But Diaz retired the next two Toronto batters to escape further damage, and Vincent — who had been knocked around in Seattle’s 10-2 defeat Tuesday night — followed with a pair of scoreless innings.
“(Vincent) really, really gave us a shot,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “You give up a home run like that late, the wind really comes out of your sails. You need pitching to step up and keep you in there. We outlasted them as much as anything today.”
The Mariners stranded a runner at third in the bottom of the ninth, when pinch-hitter Dae-Ho Lee struck out swinging, as did the Blue Jays in the top of the 10th, when Freeman made an incredible diving snag to rob Kevin Pillar and save the go-ahead run.
“A game-changer,” said catcher Mike Zunino, who replaced Sucre in the eighth. “That was one of the best plays I’ve seen all year. (Infield) playing in like that and making that play is unbelievable. It really changed the momentum of the game.”
And so it went, Toronto stranding a pair of runners in the top of the 11th and Seattle leaving the bases loaded in the bottom half.
The Blue Jays turned to knuckleballer R.A. Dickey as their 10th pitcher of the afternoon, and Guillermo Heredia reached on a Josh Donaldson error to spark the decisive rally. Ben Gamel reached on a fielder’s choice that Donaldson also dropped, then Cano lifted a long fly ball into deep left field.
“We’re not dead yet,” Servais said. “I’ve said it a few times. I think you’ve got to get all the way six feet under and we’re not quite there yet. We’re hanging in there.”
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