The Mariners should be able to salvage what has been a forgettable and disappointing road trip to the East Coast with a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles — one of the worst teams baseball.
BALTIMORE — It had all the earmarks of a bad road trip turning even worse.
But for the Mariners on Monday night at Camden Yards, allowing only two runs in a sixth inning that could have been so much worse became the deciding factor in their 5-3 victory over the Orioles.
It was the Mariners’ second victory on the East Coast road trip, improving their record to 48-31. And while they struggled facing the Red Sox and Yankees for the past 10 games, the victory over the Orioles, who are one of the worst teams in baseball, showed that winning the four-game series isn’t a given.
Seattle starter Felix Hernandez rolled into the bottom of the sixth inning with a 3-1 lead and eight ground-ball outs and four strikeouts in his pocket.
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But his command, which had been solid for the first five innings, began to wander against the heart of the Orioles’ order. He allowed a single to Manny Machado, walked Mark Trumbo on five pitches and then plunked the automatic strikeout that is Chris Davis on the foot with a curveball to load the bases with no outs.
“I got myself in trouble,” he said.
His defense bailed him out of it.
Shortstop Jean Segura, playing in his first game in four days, made a brilliant diving stop on a hard ground ball from Trey Mancini. Segura hopped to his feet and fired to second for a force out, while a run scored to cut the lead to 3-2.
“As a shortstop, you have those instincts on some grounders,” he said. “You don’t want that ball to get through there and the game get tied.”
The score did get tied moments later when Jonathan Schoop, who had homered an inning earlier off Hernandez, smacked a line drive back up the middle. The ball hit off Hernandez’s glove and bounced behind the mound.
“I wasn’t trying to catch it,” he said. “It just hit my glove. It was coming at me hot.”
But Segura read the play and was on the grass behind the mound in an instant, grabbing the ball with his bare hand and firing to first for the out.
Should Hernandez have caught it?
“His job is to pitch it,” Segura said. “Our job is to catch it.”
And the defense continued to do the job to end the inning.
Tim Beckham hit a low sinking line drive to left field that looked like it might get down before Denard Span could make a play. But Span made an outstanding diving/sliding catch to end the inning.
“Off the bat, I read it,” he said. “As I was sprinting in, I could tell the ball had topspin and reacted and made a play.”
If any one of those three plays isn’t made, the Orioles probably pick up at least another run, if not two more.
“Outstanding job,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Jean made a couple of tough plays and made good decisions on where to throw the ball.”
Happy for it to be only tied in the sixth, the Mariners untied it in the seventh, taking the lead for good by manufacturing two runs against Baltimore’s wildly erratic reliever Miguel Castro. Guillermo Heredia worked his second walk of the game to lead off the inning, Dee Gordon dropped down a perfect bunt single along the first-base line and Segura drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.
“I wasn’t given the sign, but I just wanted to make sure I got him to second base,” Gordon said.
Heredia put the Mariners ahead for good, racing home on a wild pitch. Mitch Haniger drove home another run with a sacrifice fly to center to make it 5-3. Past Mariners teams simply weren’t capable of cobbling together runs in that fashion. They didn’t have that athleticism, speed or patience.
“We’ve been doing that for the better part of the year,” Servais said. “It’s how we are built so we aren’t so reliant on the home run. It’s worked out well.”
Given a 5-3 lead, a rested Mariners bullpen delivered three innings of perfect relief. James Pazos and Alex Colome handled the seventh and eighth, while closer Edwin Diaz notched his 28th save with an easy ninth.
“Outstanding night by our bullpen after struggling a little bit on this trip,” Servais said.
Hernandez, who improved to 7-6, cruised the first four innings.
“I had good command of my fastball,” he said. “In the fifth and sixth, I lost a little command with my fastball. And it was the third time around and they were sitting on breaking balls.”
The Mariners jumped on Orioles starter Andrew Cashner in the second inning, showing an unusual amount of patience at the plate. Following Span’s two-out walk, Chris Herrmann and Heredia worked walks to load the bases. Cashner fell behind 3-0 in the count to Gordon. The Mariners’ leadoff hitter forced Cashner to throw three consecutive strikes, sitting on the third one and lining it up the middle for a two-run single.
“He had to throw me a strike,” Gordon said. “That would’ve been on my end to go up there just swing right away.”
Span later added a solo homer to right off Cashner in the sixth to push the Mariners’ lead to 3-1.
Span is batting .306 in 22 games since making his Mariners debut May 28.
The game got a little entertaining in the top of the ninth. With Haniger on first base, Nelson Cruz appeared to pop up in foul territory for the first out of the inning. But home-plate umpire Stu Scheurwater, who had dealt with complaints from both teams all game, called a balk on pitcher Darren O’Day for not pausing from the stretch. It meant that the out was nullified. O’Day lost his cool and started screaming at Scheurwater before being ejected. Orioles manager Buck Showalter earned himself an ejection after voicing his complaints for a good three minutes.