The schedule has become the Mariners’ friend. After coming back from their last road trip to Detroit and Cleveland with a 2-4 record, giving them seven losses in their last 10 games, the M’s had dropped to 63-61 and were reeling.
With a bad homestand, they could have dropped under .500. In the worst-case scenario, if the A’s had swept them, Oakland would have crept within 4 1/2 games of third place, and the Mariners would have even had to start worrying about holding off the A’s.
Forget about that. The M’s are back to a more comfortable five games over .500 and 10 1/2 ahead of Oakland. The A’s are in last place for a reason — namely, a weak offense, and a promising but raw pitching staff. The Mariners exploited both in pulling off a sweep that they completed tonight with a 5-3 win.
And now here come four games with the Royals, the worst team in the American League at 48-78. KC-based Joe Posnanski calls this the worst Royals team he’s ever seen, and Pos has been watching awful Royals’ teams for a decade. So that’s a staggering statement. Alas, there’s no Zack Greinke-Felix Hernandez matchup, which would have been magic. Greinke faces Ryan Rowland-Smith on Sunday. Felix faces Brian Bannister on Friday.
To be fair, the Mariners played very well in all three games against Oakland, particularly defensively. Jack Hannahan made a great play tonight on a foul ball, and he also got on board three times and scored three runs. The bullpen was sensational in the three games: a combined nine innings, no runs, five hits. Put it another way, the Seattle relievers threw a five-hit shutout against the A’s.
The stat being thrown around tonight was that the Mariners are 9-2 this year without Ichiro.
“It’s opportunity; that’s the biggest thing I can say,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “For me, it’s about the support of one another, everyone wishing everyone well out there. They understand if they do that, everyone will win.
“The thing we look forward to is those guys (injured players like Ichiro) returning. There’s an even stronger belief system that if we can hold the fort down while those guys are out, we’ll be even stronger when they’re back.”
The other key stat tonight was David Aardsma’s 30th save (that’s Nomar Garciaparra in the photo griping after being fanned by Aardsma in the ninth). Aardsma seized the closer’s job from Brandon Morrow in mid-May and has run with it. He joins Kazu Sasaki (three times), J.J. Putz (twice), Mike Schooler (twice), Eddie Guardado and Jose Mesa as Mariner closers with at least 30 saves.
But Aardsma, who worked in all three games against Oakland and saved two, said now is not the time to dwell on even a round number like 30.
“I want to be proud at the end of the year,” he said. “Coming into the season, I didn’t have any expectation for anything like this. But I’m here, so why just be happy with this? There’s still a month and a week left. I could very easily make this number be forgotten by pitching bad.
“I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing the last couple of outings, throw strikes, and hopefully we’ll be looking at 30 as nothing.”
P.S. The instant-replay review of Jack Cust’s disputed foul/homer in the sixth took all of 2 minutes, 35 seconds, officially, for the umps to uphold their original call of a foul ball.
The Mariners have homered in 10 straight games with Jose Lopez’s in the first, their longest stretch since homering in 12 straight games from July 13-25, 2002.
(Associated Press photo by Elaine Thompson)