This was just the third win all season by the Mariners in a game they’ve trailed after seven innings. They’ve lost another 50 of those, so you kind of sense how the season has gone. Throw in the 10 walkoff losses and it’s usually the Mariners bullpen hanging its head after these types of games.
But not tonight.
That’s because tonight, the Mariners scored five runs in the eighth and won 7-4 in a game they’d trailed all night and had only managed two hits in before the frame began.
But one of those hits was a two-run homer by Nick Franklin off Sonny Gray and wow, did it matter. That’s because winning a game you trail 4-2 in the eighth seems a little more doable than one in which it’s 4-0. Puts more pressure on the opposing bullpen as well and pressure is all the Mariners kept sending the A’s relievers’ way.
Sean Doolittle simply could not get anyone out, including Franklin, who drilled a game-tying single off him to spoil Gray’s quest for his second career win.
“The pressure is on him,” Franklin said of Doolittle, who’d already given up three straight hits and a run to start the inning. “I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. More than anything, just fighting my way to just put the ball in-play somehow and some way. With the pressure that was on him, if they make a mistake, it’s a different ballgame.”
Ryan Cook came in after that and couldn’t stop the bleeding. He uncorked a wild pitch to bring in the go-ahead run, then saw Franklin score on a grounder to second baseman Alberto Callaspo, who tried to nab the runner at home on a bang-bang play.
Franklin jabbed his right foot in ahead of the tag, while his left leg got spiked by catcher Derek Norris on the knee. Trainers helped Franklin off the field and he was given five stitches to close the laceration. The injury should keep him out the next four to five days until the stitches can heal.
Norris was also hurt, having fractured his big left toe. He’ll probably need to go on the DL.
Despite the wound, it was still a great night for Franklin as he battles back from a terrible hitting slump that had seen him not go deep in more than three weeks. Franklin’s homer came on a high changeup by Gray, a big victory of sorts for Franklin, who has struggled with changeups throughout his slump.
“I wasn’t really expecting anything, I was just trying to go back with my same approach,’’ Franklin said. “I really worked hard on it today in BP and everything.’’
Franklin saw several pitches in an earlier at-bat and it helped him recognize the changeup more quickly.
“It’s been a grind,’’ he said. “I’ve just been trying to ground out ABs as best I can. I know I haven’t been the greatest. I think just by working through it and grinding through it every day, I’ll hopefully get better.’’
Mariners interim manager Robby Thompson said Franklin’s work to recognize the changeup is ongoing.
“That’s one of the times when the changeup was up,” he said. “The thing about Nick is, you keep that changeup up, he’s going to hurt you on it. He’s been a little overly aggressive with the changeups and breaking balls that are down and out of the zone. So, he’s making the adjustments. It may take a little while but another good night from him tonight.”
And a better finish than by Joe Saunders than how he began the evening. Thompson said he never really thought about pulling Saunders once he finally escaped that 40-pitch first inning, down 4-0.
“It looked like he was just missing,” Thompson said.
That faith in Saunders — with Brandon Maurer warmed up and ready to go — paid off from there. Saunders scattered five singles the rest of the way, using two double play grounders to help make it through five more scoreless innings to keep things close.
“The defense was really good behind me, they turned some big double plays,’’ he said. “And we got some big clutch hits.’’
Saunders said the early home run by Franklin helped him focus a little more on keeping the A’s from scoring again. He said it’s fun to “chip away” at a big lead and turn the momentum the other way.
One of the keys to the whole night for Saunders and — as it turned out — his team, was the left-hander making it out of that first inning. And it helped that he was able to catch Chris Young leaning off first base for a huge second out on the pickoff. Without that, Saunders may not have been able to notch three outs before his pitch count would have climbed too high.
“I know CY pretty well,” Saunders said. of Young. “He’s a big timing guy. Those guys like CY and Coco (Crisp), if you hold the ball on them, it kind of messes up their timing a little bit. He took off and luckily I had a fastball grip and kind of stepped off and threw over there. I was fortunate. It was a big second out for me.”
Saunders lobbied to stay in the game after six innings, but wasn’t going to push it with Thompson.
“I think Maurer had already thrown probably 110 pitches in the bullpen,” he said. “So, bring him in the game.”
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