Who knows how this franchise-resurrection season ends for the Seattle Mariners, but Friday’s remarkable 5-3 comeback victory over the Boston Red Sox suggests that anything is possible.
The Mariners struck for five runs with two outs in the ninth inning against an All-Star closer in Koji Uehara, who entered the game with a 1.53 ERA his previous 57 appearances.
“Off him, you just want to try to have a good at-bat,” said Dustin Ackley, whose two-run single scored the tying and go-ahead runs.
“To score five runs, that’s pretty crazy. But we threw some good at-bats out there. Austin (Jackson) had that huge hit right before. It just kind of rolled from there.”
That roll enabled the Mariners (69-58) to reclaim a one-half-game over Detroit (68-58) in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card berth when the Tigers lost 20-6 at the Minnesota Twins.
OK, let’s reset that amazing inning.
Uehara inherited a 3-0 lead after the Mariners managed just two hits through the first eight innings. The only scoring to that point was Yoenis Cespedes’ three-run homer in the sixth against Felix Hernandez.
“The first three hours of that game, we didn’t look very good,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. “Our at-bats weren’t very good. All of sudden, with two outs, we turned it on. I can’t figure it out.”
Logan Morrison started the comeback with a one-out single, but Uehara then struck out Mike Zunino. The game turned when Endy Chavez worked through 10 pitches for a walk.
Pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia loaded the bases with a bloop single to right, which turned over the lineup for Jackson, who had ended a bases-loaded threat in the fifth inning against Boston starter Joe Kelly by popping out to second.
“You never know when you’re going to be presented with that situation again,” Jackson said. “You’ve just got to be ready. You have to stay with your approach. You can’t try to do too much in that situation.
“Just try to get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.”
Jackson drove an 0-2 splitter to left for a two-run double.
Ackley followed with a blooper into left that fell just beyond the reach of shortstop Brock Holt, who had entered the game when Xander Bogaerts left because of a possible concussion.
Bogaerts was beaned by Hernandez in fifth inning. He initially remained in the game before leaving for a pinch-hitter in the sixth. Whether he would have caught Ackley’s pop is anybody’s guess.
Holt nearly made the play.
“I did not know it was down,” Ackley said. “When I hit it, I knew I got under it a little bit. I saw Holt running after it, and I thought, ‘Well, he might have a chance on that one.’ ”
Jackson, at second, had the play in front of him but also didn’t know whether the ball would get down.
“I was just running,” he said. “It was one of those balls that was hit kind of in the middle of everybody. Just keep running, and it was able to fall.”
Chavez and Jackson scored and, incredibly, the Mariners led 4-3.
And they weren’t done.
Robinson Cano lashed a single to right on a 3-2 pitch, and Ackley, running on the play, was waved home by third-base coach Rich Donnelly.
“My theory is,” Donnelly said, “when it’s 3-2 and the runner is running, if the ball is hit where the outfielder throws it to second, and lobs it a little bit, I’m rolling. I’m taking a shot.”
Ackley scored, and the Mariners led by two.
Fernando Rodney closed out the comeback with a scoreless ninth for his 37th save in 40 chances. That meant the victory went to rookie Dominic Leone — a New England-native in his first appearance at Fenway Park.
“It was nuts,” Leone admitted. “Sweet Caroline. The whole thing. That’s what I’ve watched for years. To actually be on the bump and get a win after the guys battled their butts off, that was awesome.”
Leone is 6-2; Uehara is 5-4 with a third blown save in 29 chances
The comeback enabled the Mariners to end a nine-game losing streak at Fenway and marked Boston’s first loss of the year when leading after eight innings. The Red Sox had been 44-0 when leading after eight.
And it all came after McClendon announced earlier the day that the stretch drive is on.
“That’s a good way to start,” he said. “I would say the horse race is on.”