OAKLAND — The Seattle Mariners were in the middle of yet another game featuring a late-inning bullpen implosion.
Only this time, it was the opposing team’s relievers who faltered.
The normally solid Oakland A’s bullpen – a main reason for the team’s success this season – suffered a massive meltdown in the eighth inning Tuesday night, giving up five runs and allowing the Mariners to escape O.co Coliseum with a 7-4 win.
“We know that they have an outstanding bullpen, but we kept grinding it out and made the best of some opportunities,” acting manager Robby Thompson said.
It all started off innocently with the A’s holding 4-2 lead going into the top of the eighth.
Left-hander Sean Doolittle, who came into the game with a 2.32 ERA at home, gave up a leadoff single to Michael Saunders. Henry Blanco then lined a ball to left that Yoenis Cespedes tried to catch on the run and dropped. It was ruled a double for Blanco.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Brad Miller dumped a single into center to score Saunders and cut the deficit to 4-3.
Nick Franklin, who hit a two-run homer earlier, lined a single to left to score pinch-runner Brendan Ryan to tie the game at 4.
The small but boisterous crowd of 13,041 showered boos on Doolittle and manager Bob Melvin when he came out to remove Doolittle from the game.
And the boos would continue as the bullpen mistakes mounted. Right-hander Ryan Cook replaced Doolittle and walked Kyle Seager to load the bases.
With Kendrys Morales at the plate, Cook uncorked a wild pitch to score Miller from third to give the Mariners a 5-4 lead. The lead grew to 6-4 when Morales hit a chopper to second base and Franklin scored from third, sliding under the tag of catcher Derek Norris.
There was some misfortune for both sides as the players came up limping. Franklin suffered a nasty gash on his knee that required five stitches. Norris also left the game with a fractured toe.
Cook walked Raul Ibañez and then finally got the first out of the inning, striking out Justin Smoak. But he uncorked a second wild pitch to score Seager.
Melvin had seen enough and yanked Cook with a 2-0 count on Morse in favor of Jesse Chavez, who got Morse to fly out, and, after an intentional walk, struck out Ryan to end the inning.
“That’s what we’ve seen against us a few times,” Thompson said. “They are learning that, ‘Hey, once we get this thing going, let’s not stop. Let’s put as much pressure as we can on them.’”
But before the Mariners could make a mess of the A’s bullpen, they needed to be in the game. Starting pitcher Joe Saunders managed to do that after enduring a brutal first inning in which the A’s batted around to score four runs, including homers by Josh Donaldson and Nate Freiman.
“There’s a lot of things that go through your mind at that point,” Saunders said. “You are making good pitches and they are putting balls in play and finding holes. I only made one bad pitch and that was to Freiman. Donaldson hit a good pitch. You just tip your cap and try to limit damage.”
Saunders didn’t limit damage, he ended it. He kept the A’s to those four runs, leaving after the sixth.
“If I can take good thing from this start ... it was ... keeping it at four runs and giving our offense a chance to do its thing,” Saunders said.
Franklin jumped all over a hanging change-up from A’s starter Sonny Gray, ripping it into the right-field stands for a two-run homer in the third inning. It was Franklin’s first homer since July 28.
“It’s been grind,” Franklin said. “I know I have not been the greatest. I’m just working through it and grinding through it every day.”
Cutting the lead in half helped matters.
“It gives you new life in the dugout and some confidence,” Thompson said.
The Mariners’ bullpen didn’t suffer any late-inning letdowns. Yoervis Medina pitched a scoreless eighth, despite walking two. Danny Farquhar worked a one-two-three ninth to get his eighth save. Brandon Maurer (4-7) picked up the win after pitching a scoreless seventh.
Franklin’s knee had a nasty gash as Norris’ spikes ripped through his pants. He asked for a new pair of pants to stay in the game but the laceration was too deep. He is likely to be out four to five days because of the email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish