[do action=”brightcove-video” videoid=”3794119833001″/]
Baseball is an odd game where what should happen won’t always occur. Bad teams win games. Cy Young-level pitchers struggle. The best hitter goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. There are no certainties.
And yet, Thursday night should have been the closest thing there is to a guaranteed win in baseball.
The Mariners were basically facing a slightly better version of the Salt Lake Bees – the Class AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels – with Felix Hernandez on the mound.
After clinching the American League West division on Wednesday night and likely celebrating well into Thursday morning, Angels manager Mike Scioscia gave most of his regulars the day off and scratched scheduled starter Jered Weaver to line him rest up to pitch the first game of the AL Division series. It meant, no Mike Trout, no Albert Pujols, no Josh Hamilton, no Howie Kendrick and no Erick Aybar.
A cynic or pessimist might say: “Yeah, but Seattle Mariners.”
And for eight innings, it sure looked like the Mariners were not only going to suffer their most incomprehensible loss of the season, but inexplicably get shutout for the fourth time in 10 games.
The Angels were handing them a win and a chance to make up ground in the postseason race, and the Mariners were giving it back as if it was a plate of steamed broccoli.
It might have been the final blow to their playoff hopes. Twitter was like Lord of the Flies. Dogs and cats were soon to be living together. Mitch Levy would actually start taking cell phone calls in anger. And Larry Stone might have said a mean thing for the first time in his life.
Should win. Doesn’t always equal a win.
“Everybody thinks that easy, but it’s scary,” manager Lloyd McClendon said of the situation. “It’s hard to prepare.”
But Logan Morrison changed all the lingering dread to elation with one swing. The Mariners first baseman belted a three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning off of Kevin Jepsen to break a 0-0 tie and give the Mariners a 3-1 win.
[do action=”brightcove-video” videoid=”3794343980001″/]
“It’s ones of the biggest hits, if not the biggest hit of my life,” Morrison said of his ninth homer of the season. “It was awesome. We have to keep it going tomorrow.”
With the win, the Mariners move one game behind the Oakland A’s for the second wild card.
Under the narrative of nothing is ever simple for the Mariners, closer Fernando Rodney came in and gave up a one-out solo homer to Hank Conger. He then dropped a ball while covering first base for an out and had the tying run at the plate. But he managed to strike out Tony Campana to end the game for his 46th save of the season – setting a new Mariners’ club record. They certainly weren’t all easy.
“They all count,” McClendon said. “People always ask, ‘how was your flight?’ If it landed it was a good flight.”
Hernandez did his part, pitching seven shutout innings, giving up four hits while striking out 11 and walking two. It was his sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season and he pushed his season total of strikeouts to 236 – a new career high.
Of the nine players in the Angels’ lineup, perhaps only catcher Hank Conger or designated C.J. Chron, would have been out there in a normal game. Hernandez didn’t fool around, pounding the strike zone, hitter after hitter while keeping his cool despite home plate umpire Bob Davidson’s meandering strike zone.
“My mindset today was attack the hitters as if there was Trout, Pujols and Hamilton in the lineup,” Hernandez said.
And yet, he took another no decision. To be fair, the Mariners don’t score runs for the other starters as well. The offensive anemia is at least democratic that way.
Seattle mustered two hits in 5 1/3 innings off spot starter Wade LeBlanc, who came into the game with a 6.88 ERA on the season. And the Mariners did little more against the bullpen. For the first eight innings, Robinson Cano, who doubled in the first inning, was the only runner to reach first base.
But it changed in the ninth inning
With two outs, Kendrys Morales lined a single into left field. He was lifted for his personal pinch runner James Jones, who did his usual to cause havoc on the base paths. Jones coaxed several throws to first base from Jepsen and one finally got away from Efren Navarro, allowing Jones to advance to second.
“He really created some concentration problems for the pitcher,” McClendon said. “And that’s a good thing.”
Jepsen then intentionally walked Kyle Seager to bring Morrison to the plate, setting up the late-inning heroics.