This is what the Mariners wanted — all they could ask for, really — in front of a sell-out crowd on a picturesque mid-September Saturday night at Safeco Field.
They had Felix Hernandez on the mound against reeling Oakland, an opponent he typically dominates, with a chance to grab a share of the lead for the American League’s top wild-card berth.
It ended in disaster.
The A’s outlasted Hernandez before capitalizing on Fernando Rodney’s inability to throw strikes for a 2-1 victory over the Mariners in 10 innings.
Rodney (1-6) walked four batters in the inning, including Jed Lowrie with the bases loaded on four pitches.
The loss dropped the Mariners out of postseason position. They now trail Kansas City by one game for the American League’s second wild-card spot. They are 1 1/2 games behind the A’s for the top wild-card berth.
Luke Gregerson (5-4) got the victory for pitching a scoreless ninth inning in relief of Sonny Gray. Sean Doolittle got his 21st save by protecting the lead in the 10th inning.
There are lots of ways to lose games. Four walks in an inning are among the worst.
The Mariners turned to Rodney, their closer, in a tie game to start the 10th inning. And, boy, that didn’t work. He started by issuing a leadoff walk to Coco Crisp after jumping ahead 0-2 in the count.
When Crisp moved to second on Sam Fuld’s sacrifice, the Mariners opted for an intentional walk to Josh Donaldson. The A’s then sent up Alberto Callaspo as a pinch-hitter for Jonny Gomes.
Callaspo walked, which loaded the bases with one out.
Rodney bounced his first two pitches to Brandon Moss, but catcher Mike Zunino blocked both. Rodney battled back for a strikeout but walked Lowrie on four pitches.
Josh Reddick ended the inning by lining out to short, but the A’s had the only run they needed.
The crowd of 43,913 was the Mariners’ second home sellout of the season. The other was April 8 in the home opener.
Hernandez settled for a no-decision after yielding two runs and seven hits in seven innings while striking out eight and walking none. He handed a 2-2 game to reliever Joe Beimel to start the eighth inning.
Gray went eight innings but also got a no-decision.
Beimel retired the first hitter before the Mariners turned to Tom Wilhelmsen. That’s when things got a tad dicey.
Wilhelmsen issued a walk to Donaldson, who had erased the Mariners’ 1-0 lead by lining a one-out homer against Hernandez in the sixth inning.
In came Charlie Furbush for a left-on-left matchup against Adam Dunn, which prompted a counter move. Gomes batted for Dunn.
Furbush struck out Gomes but walked Brandon Moss, which led to the inning’s fourth pitching change. Danny Farquhar replaced Furbush, which turned switch-hitter Jed Lowrie to the left side.
Lowrie struck out on three pitches.
The Mariners then mounted a threat when James Jones reached on a one-out single against Gray in the bottom of the inning.
Gray struck out Chris Taylor, but an errant pickoff throw moved Jones to second. But Austin Jackson, mired in a dreadful slump, struck out for the 10th time in a zero-for-14 drought.
Derek Norris’ one-out single in the ninth provided the A’s with a chance against Farquhar. The Mariners settled for a force at second on Eric Sogard’s grounder to second before Sogard stole second.
The Mariners challenged the call at second, and the replays reversed the call and ended the inning.
Hernandez carried a 1-1 game into the seventh and caught a break on a called strike on a full count against Lowrie to start the inning.
Reddick followed with a double into the left-center gap. A wild pitch moved Reddick to third but, with the infield pulled in, Norris struck out.
Sogard then lined a first-pitch fastball over short for an RBI single that gave Oakland a 2-1 lead. It was Sogard’s third hit of the game.
Sogard stole second base before taking third on another Hernandez wild pitch before Crisp struck out.
The Mariners answered two pitches into the bottom of the inning when Robinson Cano crushed a 1-0 change-up from Gray for a no-doubt homer to right.
The A’s came out swinging against Hernandez.
Crisp lined the game’s first pitch into center for a single, but Hernandez retired the next three hitters — on four pitches,
The Mariners’ second ended when Logan Morrison, after a one-out walk, veered way out of the baseline on his slide at second base on Mike Zunino’s grounder to second.
Lowrie didn’t throw to first, but Zunino was declared out.
Jones opened the Mariners’ third with a triple over Crisp’s head in center. Oakland shortened its infield, but it wouldn’t have mattered; Taylor grounded a hard single up the middle.
The Mariners led 1-0.
It stayed that way until Donaldson pulled the A’s even by tomahawking a 1-0 offering from Hernandez for a one-out homer in the sixth inning.
RODNEY’S SAVE RECORD A ROLLER COASTER
Lloyd McClendon offers a simple answer in defining his in-game responsibilities as the Mariners’ manager: Get the game to All-Star closer Fernando Rodney.
“I’m a believer that once you get your closer in the game in the ninth inning with a lead,” McClendon said, “you’ve done your job as a manager. It’s his game to win or lose.”
It’s hard to argue with the results.
All-Star closer Fernando Rodney matched the franchise record for saves Friday by getting No. 45 when he worked around a two-on, no-out jam in the ninth inning of a 4-2 victory over the A’s.
“They told me after the game,” he said. “I didn’t know the record for closers. Every time I go in, I just try to save the game for my teammates.”
Kazuhiro Sasaki set the Mariners’ record with 45 in 2001.
“It’s good,” Rodney said. “It’s a lot of saves, 45, with 16 games left. I’ll continue to work and try to make good pitches.”
Rodney is three saves shy of his personal best of 48, set in 2012 at Tampa Bay, and on track to become the first Mariners’ reliever to lead the majors — or even the American League — in that stat.
Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel and St. Louis’ Trevor Rosenthal entered Saturday as the National League co-leaders with 43 saves, while Kansas City’s Greg Holland was second among American League relievers at 42.
Rodney has only three blown saves — his 93.8 percent success rate that ranks third in the majors among pitchers on pace for at least 20 saves opportunities.
But it’s often a high-wire act. Friday wasn’t atypical; the A’s opened the inning with two singles before Rodney retired the next three hitters on a foul popup and two strikeouts.
“I don’t care how he gets it done as long as he gets it done,” McClendon said. “He’s been phenomenal. I’m not sure where we’d be without him. He’s been that good.”
In 42 of Rodney’s 64 outings, at least one batter has reached safely.
Not that it seems to faze him.
“Just focus,” he said. “Keep pitching. And throw your fastball. Believe and trust the stuff you have. That’s what I do. I trust my fastball.”
ACKLEY RESTS AGAIN
On reflection, left fielder Dustin Ackley’s troublesome left ankle, while better, still isn’t quite game-ready. He returned to the bench Saturday after going hitless Friday in three at-bats.
“I need to be able to drive off my back foot,” he said, “and I wasn’t really able to do that. I think will take maybe a day or two more to get where I need to be.
“It’s not like it got any worse. If anything, it’s gotten better.”
Ackley missed four games after leaving a Sept. 6 game at Texas because soreness in his ankle was starting to limit his mobility.
“He was a little sore (Friday) night,” McClendon said. “I think if this was the seventh game of the World Series, he could play. We’ll see if we can get him cleaned up a little bit more.
“Once those spikes dig into the clay at home plate, you’ve got to pivot (on the ankle). I’m hoping he’ll be OK (for Sunday).”
“Just watching my swings on video,” he said, “I could tell it wasn’t how it normally is.”
SAUNDERS ALSO SITS
Outfielder Michael Saunders also opened the game on the bench after making four straight starts following his activation from the disabled list.
“He looked a little sluggish (Friday) with his legs,” McClendon said. “It’s a chance to get James (Jones) in there. If he gets on, he’s a threat.”
Jones started in right field, while Endy Chavez started in left field in place of Ackley.
Saunders missed nearly two months because of a strained left oblique and a viral infection before returning last Monday against Houston. He was 2-for-11 with three walks in the four games.
The probable starters are set for the Mariners’ upcoming four-game series against the Angels in Anaheim.
The Mariners have their rotation lined up for the remainder of the year.
It was 24 years ago Sunday — Sept. 14, 1990 — that Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. hit back-to-back homers in the first inning against Angels right-hander Kirk McCaskill at Anaheim.
It marked the first time in history that a father and son had hit successive homers in a major-league game. Griffey Sr.’s homer came on an 0-2 count, while Junior turned around a 3-0 pitch.
It wasn’t enough. The Angels rallied for a 7-5 victory.
The Mariners and A’s conclude their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Chris Young (12-7 with a 3.35 ERA) will seek his first victory since Aug. 17 when he opposes Oakland lefty and Bellarmine Prep alumnus Jon Lester (13-10, 2.54). Root Sports will televise the game.
After the game, the Mariners depart on their final road trip: four games against the Angels in Anaheim, three at Houston and four at Toronto.
The Mariners then conclude the regular season Sept. 26-28 with three home games against the Angels.