It isn’t always immediately apparent when a game turns around. Nope, not always. But it was Sunday when the Mariners missed a chance to hit the All-Star break with a sweep over first-place Oakland.
The A’s salvaged the final game in the weekend series with a 4-1 victory behind Sonny Gray — and it was Gray’s ability to pitch out of a first-and-third jam with no outs in the fourth inning that proved decisive.
The Mariners, leading 1-0, opened the inning with singles from Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager before letting Gray off the hook.
Logan Morrison’s hopper to the mound resulted in a force at second. Justin Smoak popped to third. And Dustin Ackley struck out.
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So ... nothing.
“We had a chance there,” Cano said, “but that’s part of the game. You can’t point at anyone. It’s just part of the game. Now, we just get ready for Friday (when the season resumes in Anaheim).”
Everything turned after Gray choked off the rally.
“That came back to bite us,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “That was an opportunity against a real good team.”
The A’s quickly stirred to life in the fifth inning against Mariners starter Chris Young, who had retired 13 of 14 batters before Jed Lowrie sliced a one-out double into the left-field corner.
Lowrie failed to advance on Nick Punto’s fly to deep center but, in the end, it didn’t matter. Andy Parrino worked a nine-pitch walk, and Craig Gentry tied the game by driving an RBI single into center.
The A’s gambled when John Jaso flicked a single over short by trying to score Parrino from second — and they cashed the gamble for a 2-1 lead when Ackley made an off-line throw to the plate.
Oakland extended its lead to 3-1 in the sixth when Brandon Moss, whose long drive in the fourth hooked just foul, sent a one-out laser to right that didn’t hook at all. It was his 21st homer of the season.
“They were able to scratch out a couple of runs with some good at-bats,” Young said. “The only real bad pitch was the one to Moss that he hit out in the sixth. Lowrie hit a good pitch the other way.
“They’re a good club. There’s a reason they’ve got the best record in baseball.”
Further proof of the game’s changing karma came in the Mariners’ sixth after Seager yanked a two-out single to right. Morrison followed with a sharp grounder that appeared ticketed for a single through the right side.
But the ball hit Seager for the final out.
Gray (10-3) held the 3-1 lead into the eighth before Sean Doolittle closed out the victory for his 14th save.
It was just what the A’s needed after mustering little in losing the two previous games to Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
“We’d been having trouble scoring runs,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We’d been beat down a little bit by some pretty good starting pitchers.
“And Young is always difficult, especially for guys who haven’t faced him a lot. So I’m sure (Gray) went out there knowing he was going to have to be pretty stingy with runs. He absolutely was that.”
The Mariners put the tying runs on base in the eighth when Endy Chavez pulled a one-out single to right and moved to second on a grounder before Gray issued an intentional walk to Cano.
Melvin summoned Doolittle to face Seager in a match-up between two AL All-Stars. Seager popped to short and that, pretty much, was that.
Punto’s one-out homer in the A’s ninth against Joe Beimel closed the scoring. It also snapped Beimel’s scoreless streak at 19 innings over his 18 previous outings.
Gray’s final line showed one unearned run and six hits in 72/3 innings. Young (8-6) gave up three runs and five hits before exiting after the sixth.
The loss means the Mariners hit the All-Star break at 51-44, which leaves them eight games behind the A’s in the AL West Division but holding a 21/2-game lead in the race for the league’s final wild-card spot.
After a four-day break, the Mariners resume their season Friday against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif. (Point to note: The Mariners were 43-52 last year at the break and 11 games out of a post-season slot.)
“It was a good series for us,” McClendon said. “There’s no question about that. We picked up a game in the standings. My guys finished the first half pretty strong. We’ll rest for four days and get ready for Anaheim.”