Hisaski Iwakuma, it appears, understands the value of marketing and promotions.
On a Saturday night when the Mariners distributed 20,000 Iwakuma bobblehead dolls, he dialed up perhaps the finest performance of his career in a 6-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field.
Iwakuma (8-4) came within one out of the first complete game and first shutout of his career. He exited to raucous cheers after yielding a two-run homer to Brandon Moss in the ninth inning.
Yoervis Medina got the final out in a victory that boosted the Mariners to 51-43 and ensured they will enter the All-Star break holding a lead in the American League wild-card chase.
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The Mariners backed Iwakuma with homers by Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano in front of rocking crowd 39,204 that spent the closing innings bobbling those 20,000 bobbleheads.
Moss’ homer kept the night from being perfect.
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead on Dustin Ackley’s RBI single in the second inning before Seager crushed a two-run homer in the fifth.
All of that came against Oakland starter Jesse Chavez, who exited after James Jones’ two-out double in the sixth when manager Bob Melvin opted for Fernando Abad to face Cano in a left-on-left match-up.
Cano flied out to deep center.
Chavez (7-6) gave up three runs and 10 hits in 52/3 innings.
Cano atoned in his next at-bat.
The Mariners nearly added an insurance run against Jim Johnson in the eighth, but A’s left fielder Yoenis Cespedes made a terrific throw that cut down Willie Bloomquist at the plate.
It was a temporary reprieve.
Johnson walked James Jones, and Cano followed with a booming three-run homer.
That pretty much put the game on ice.
Iwakuma struck out the side in the first inning but ran into one-out problems in the second when singles by Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie put runners at first and second.
Bob Davidson provided a break by ringing up Derek Norris on a borderline 1-2 call before Iwakuma got Eric Sogard to chase an 0-2 splitter.
The A’s managed little thereafter until Moss’ homer.
The Mariners grabbed the lead later in inning after Cespedes gave up on Corey Hart’s one-out drive to the left-center gap. The ball caromed off the wall for a double.
Dustin Ackley then drove a first-pitch change-up back through the middle for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead. Brad Miller worked back from a 1-2 count for a walk that moved Ackley to second.
Chavez kept the game at 1-0 by striking out Jesus Sucre and, after walking Endy Chavez, retiring Jones on a soft grounder to third.
Shortstop Brad Miller bobbled Cespedes’ leadoff grounder in the fourth for an error. Iwakuma sawed off Moss on a fly to right before Kyle Seager turned a tough Donaldson hop to third into a double play.
Miller got ejected in the bottom of the inning by Davidson for commenting on a borderline third strike. Miller was walking away at the time. Chavez then yielded successive singles before striking out Jones.
It was still 1-0 when Cano opened the fifth by dropping a single in front of Cespedes. After Logan Morrison popped out, Seager crushed a first-pitch fastball for a no-doubt homer to right.
It boosted Seager’s club-leading totals to 15 homers and 63 RBIs. It was the first homer against Chavez since June 4. And it extended the Mariners’ lead to 3-0.
Iwakuma yielded a two-out single in the sixth to Stephen Vogt, who lives in Tumwater, that marked Oakland’s first hit since the second inning. But Cespedes ended the inning with a fly to right.