The longest series in franchise history – a 10-day affair that spanned two continents and produced four games – ended Saturday when Brandon League refused to be fooled by a 7-0 lead.
What began March 28 in Tokyo ended Saturday with Seattle’s 8-7 victory in Game 4 of this series, an improbable Felix Hernandez win that demanded all Seattle’s bullpen had.
“I tip my cap to Tom Wilhelmsen and Brandon League,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Oakland switched the momentum on us, came back strong, and those guys shut ’em down the final two innings.”
Chone Figgins again led an offensive assault that produced 13 hits, and it was his double, triple and two RBI that helped Seattle jump ahead.
Every Mariners starter had at least one hit, Ichiro and Kyle Seager had two each and Michael Saunders banged out a solo home run that gave the Mariners their final run.
And still, this one came down to the bullpen.
“I was sharp early, and then they started jumping at the first pitch,” Felix said. “I didn’t adjust fast enough. It was a good game to win. It was nice getting eight runs.
“It wasn’t nice giving up six.”
Still, there it was. Hernandez got to the seventh inning ahead, 8-4, got one out, put two men on base and was pulled in favor of rookie left-hander Lucas Luetge.
Against the dangerous Josh Reddick, Luetge threw three pitches – all strikes – and got the second out of the inning.
“Lucky,” Luetge said, beaming.
The Mariners brought in Steve Delabar to face outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, he of the 464-foot home run a night earlier. Delabar fell behind and Cespedes hit a three-run home run to make it 8-7.
“You get behind, hitters will hit a fastball no matter how hard you throw it,” Delabar said. “He was sitting on it.”
Delabar got out of the seventh, but Oakland was surging. In the eighth, Wilhelmsen came in with the same approach he said he brings to every appearance.
“Get outs,” he said.
Wilhelmsen put the Athletics down in order.
That got Seattle to the ninth inning, and League.
“Part of this job is staying absolutely prepared no matter what the score is,” League said. “When we were up 7-0 and Felix was pitching, I didn’t relax.
“Every pitcher has probably been caught with his pants down that way – either the other team comes back or your team does, and you’re not ready to pitch.
“I did it once. It’ll never happen again.”
League set Oakland down in order for his second save, and the Mariners took a deep breath, showered and headed for Texas with the American League West’s best record.
What’s it mean?
Bottom line: The Mariners took three of four from Oakland.
No, they haven’t yet faced division favorites Texas or Los Angeles, but then they didn’t make the wacky schedule, either.
Under Wedge, Seattle has learned to take baseball one game at a time, not nearly as simple as it sounds. Look ahead, a team can get pounded.
Every inning matters, and Felix proved that again in the Oakland fourth inning. Ahead 7-0, he loaded the bases with Athletics with no one out – then held them to one run on a sacrifice fly.
“That was good, getting out of that with one run,” he said.
Good? Without question, it saved his victory.
What made a win possible despite allowing seven runs was a six-run fourth inning. Dustin Ackley singled, Ichiro tripled, Justin Smoak singled and Seattle had two runs.
With one out, Kyle Seager singled, Miguel Olivo singled and Smoak scored. With two outs, rookie Munenori Kawasaki’s first major league hit – a single – scored Seager.
Figgins, whose triple set up a first-inning run, doubled home the fifth and sixth runs of the inning.
Given a seven-run lead, all the Mariners had to do was hang on. They did, and now they are finally through with the Athletics for well, exactly four games.
Those will be played in Texas, after which the Mariners fly home and – two months and two days after spring training began – play in Safeco Field.
Against the Oakland Athletics. With Felix Hernandez starting his third game of 2012, all against Oakland.
By then, he said, he will have made a few adjustments.
“I was mad at myself tonight,” he said. “My fastball wasn’t up, it kept coming back to the middle of the plate. I know this, though – we look a lot better this year.”