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It’s been a while – 13 years to be exact. But on Saturday night, the Mariners and their fans got to relive the feelings of playoff baseball again.
You remember that nerve-racking, pulse-pounding, low-scoring, run-savoring, teeth-gnashing grind of a game.
No, it wasn’t a real postseason game, but facing the rival Oakland A’s with direct wild card implications late in the season, it was the closest thing to it.
It even featured a playoff caliber pitching matchup with Felix Hernandez squaring off against Oakland’s
With a sold-out crowd of 43,914 filling Safeco Field for the much-anticipated showdown, the game didn’t disappoint, needing extra innings to decide it.
In the end, nine innings of crisp baseball fell apart in a barrage of balls and walks and the Mariners were left thinking about what could have or should have been in a 3-2 loss.
Closer Fernando Rodney entered the game in the top of the 10th inning with the scored tied at 2-2. Manager Lloyd McClendon went by the usual managerial strategy of pitching his closer in top of the 10th and trying to win it in the bottom of the inning.
“It depends on who is coming up,” McClendon said of the strategy. “They had the middle of the order coming up and I wanted my best reliever in.”
But Rodney, a day after tying the franchise record for saves in a season with 45, imploded in his attempt for No. 46. He simply couldn’t throw a strike when he needed to. It started with the leadoff hitter, Coco Crisp. After getting up 0-2, Rodney never got strike three, walking him.
“His command was just a little off,” McClendon said. “Rodney threw the ball okay. Obviously the walk to the leadoff hitter hurt. He battled.”
The A’s sac bunted him to second. McClendon had Rodney intentionally walk Josh Donaldson, who had homered earlier in the game, to set up the force out. But Rodney then walked Alberto Callaspo – and that wasn’t intentional – to load the bases.
Rodney gave panicked Mariners’ fans a glimmer of hope. He struck out Brandon Moss looking with a 3-2 changeup to get the second out.
For a moment, it seemed like he might actually wiggle out of the situation.
But the Houdini act wouldn’t continue.
He walked Jed Lowrie on four straight pitches to allow the game-winning run jog across the plate. The A’s took the lead with only one ball being put in play – the sac bunt.
Rodney finally got out of the inning, getting Josh Reddick to line out with shortstop Chris Taylor making a diving catch to save it from being a three-run lead.
“It was tough to find the strike zone,” Rodney said. “I did my best. I was jumping a little on the mound to the first two hitters. And then I couldn’t find the strike zone to the other two hitters.”
McClendon said earlier in the week that he will stick with Rodney until he gives up the lead. He had Yoervis Medina warming, but only if the inning had continued further.
“You stick with your closer, but you don’t want him to throw too many pitches,” McClendon said. “That’s why Medina was up.”
The damage was done.
The Mariners went quietly 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 10th with A’s closer Sean Doolittle looking like the efficient antithesis of Rodney.
“It was a tough way to lose a game,” McClendon said.
The loss dropped Seattle to 80-67 and a full game back in the race for the second wild behind the Royals and a game and half behind the A’s (82-66).
“I thought it was a great game,” McClendon said. “They battled. We battled. Their pitcher struggled early on and then settled in. That’s why he’s so good. It was a hell of a game and we came out on the short-end of the stick.”
The Mariners struck first. James Jones, who got the start in left field with Dustin Ackley’s sore left ankle still acting up, jumped on a 1-0 fastball from Gray, hitting a missile to center field over the head of Coco Crisp and off the wall for a lead-off triple in the third inning. It was just the second extra base hit for Jones in 65 big league at-bats.
Chris Taylor plated Jones with a crisp single up the middle past a drawn-in infield to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
The A’s finally got to Hernandez in the sixth inning when he left a 1-0 changeup belt high and over the middle of the plate. Donaldson didn’t miss the mistake, belting a line drive that rocketed to left field, just barely clearing the fence for his 27th homer of the season. Donaldson was just 5-for-32 with no homers against Hernandez before that at-bat.
“It was a changeup that lead out over the plate,” Hernandez said. “He put a good swing on it.”
Oakland grabbed a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh inning. Josh Reddick double to left-center with one out and later moved to third on a wild pitch. With two outs, Eric Sogard, the No. 9 hitter, came up with his third hit of the night, lining a sharp single to left field on the first pitch, just out of the reach of a leaping Chris Taylor, to give the A’s a one-run lead.
Hernandez was done after seven, giving up two runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts and two wild pitches.
The A’s didn’t have their lead for long. Cano changed that, crushing a 1-0 fastball off of Gray into the right field seats for his 14th home run of the season.
Gray still worked eight innings, allowing just two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. Luke Gregerson got the win relief after pitching a scoreless ninth.
“Every game you lose from now on is going to mean a lot,” Cano said. “If you want to stay in the race, you have to win these games, especially in a situation where you come from behind and tie the game.”
Can they bounce back?
“Everyone here is a grown man,” Cano said. “You can’t put your head down about one game. We’ve in this situation during the season. I know now it means more than ever, but I know we got a great team. We didn’t come so far by mistake. We just have to stay together and be ready for tomorrow.”
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