For the Mariners, who lead the American League in one-run games, Saturday’s 14-3 romp at the Oakland Coliseum offered a welcome respite from the grind of a still-uphill postseason push.
The Mariners, plain and simple, pounded Oakland right-hander Kendall Graveman, who entered the day on an extended roll. Two runs in the first inning. Four more in the third. And so on.
That was plenty for Felix Hernandez, who steadied after some early wobbles by pitching six shutout innings before the bullpen meandered through the final nine outs.
"Anytime you score a few runs and get a lead to Felix," designated hitter Nelson Cruz said, "it’s nice."
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This was plenty nice.
Cruz had three hits and three RBIs. Nori Aoki had three hits and scored three times. This was a balanced 17-hit attack that got two or more hits from seven players.
"An outstanding offensive day," manager Scott Servais said, "against a guy who has been throwing the ball pretty well. Our guys, their timing is good, their rhythm is good in the batter’s box. We had a lot of good at-bats.
"It was up and down the lineup. It wasn’t just one or two guys carrying us."
Hernandez improved to 11-5 while lowering his ERA to 3.58. He struck out just two but only had one walk after issuing four in each of his two previous outings.
"The first two innings," he said, "I was a little wild. The ball was moving all over the place. Sinking and cutting. (Catcher Jesus) Sucre said, `Let’s pound the strike zone with the fastball and see what happens.’"
So here’s the math: The Mariners are 74-68 after winning their fourth straight game but remained 3 1/2 games back in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. They have 20 games remaining.
Graveman (10-10) entered the game on an extended roll at 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA in his previous 18 starts. He was on a run of four straight quality starts and had 12 in his 15 previous outings.
That wasn’t the guy who showed up.
The Mariners rapped Graveman for eight runs and 12 hits in five-plus innings. The eight runs matched the worst outing of his career; the 12 hits were the most he’s ever allowed.
It was 14-0 when Drew Storen replaced Hernandez to start the seventh inning.
Storen gave up two singles to start the inning but could have escaped unscathed if third baseman Kyle Seager had cleanly fielded Joey Wendle’s potential inning-ending grounder.
Instead, Seager whiffed on the ball for his 22nd error, and Athletics were on the board. Oakland got two more runs in the eighth inning on Ryon Healy’s homer against Tom Wilhelmsen.
The Mariners struck for two runs in the first inning after putting runners at first and third with no outs on Aoki’s leadoff double and Seth Smith’s infield single.
Aoki scored on Robinson Cano’s double-play grounder. The Mariners got their second run when Cruz doubled off the center-field wall and scored on Seager’s single.
Hernandez pitched around two singles in a 22-pitch first inning. He gave up two singles and a walk in a 20-pitch second but, again, no runs. Hernandez then retired 12 of 14 batters over the next four innings.
"That’s Felix," Servais said. "He’s got good stuff. He just has to figure out what’s working on a particular day. He’s not going to let those (big leads) slip away. He knows how to get deep in games.
"That’s why he’s been Felix as long as he’s been."
The Mariners loaded the bases with no outs in the third inning on two walks and a single. Cruz then lined a first-pitch fastball off the base of the left-field wall for a two-run double and a 4-0 lead.
Graveman struck out Seager before setting up a force-at-any-base situation with an intentional walk to Adam Lind, but Jesus Sucre spoiled the strategy with a squib single to third that produced another run.
When Sucre gets an infield single, things are going right. As Hernandez noted: "Speed kills."
The Mariners made it 6-0 when Ben Gamel beat the relay on a potential double-play grounder before Graveman finally ended the inning retiring Ketel Marte on a grounder to first.
Aoki’s two-run double in the sixth made 8-0 and finished Graveman.
Reliever J.P. Wendelken stranded Aoki at third after replacing Graveman, but the Mariners struck for six more runs in the seventh inning. Seager led off with a homer, and Shawn O’Malley contributed a two-run single.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Nori Aoki opened the game with a double past third base. It set the tone for everything that followed.
PLUS: The Mariners were 8-for-18 with runners in scoring position…Nori Aoki reached base four times after hitting a homer in Friday’s 3-2 victory…Ben Gamel had two hits after entering the game at 1-for-16 since arriving in an Aug. 31 trade from the Yankees…Nelson Cruz had his eight three-hit game of the year.
MINUS: We’re nit-picking here. But third baseman Kyle Seager’s 22 errors, the most among MLB third basemen, are a growing concern…Shawn O’Malley got doubled off first base on Nelson Cruz’s sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. The run scored before O’Malley’s out.
STAT PACK: Felix Hernandez is 23-8 with a 2.61 ERA in 43 career starts against Oakland. His 23 victories are tied with Frank Tanana for the most by any pitcher against the Athletics since they moved to Oakland in 1968. Tanana was 23-35. The only other pitchers with 20 career victories against Oakland are Bert Blyleven (21-22), Kenny Rogers (21-8) and Tommy John (20-17).
QUOTABLE: Center fielder Leonys Martin got a day off but, apparently, drove everybody crazy on the bench.
"He’s yelling all the time," manager Scott Servais said. "He got his wires crossed. He yells `Outside’ all of the time. Well, we’re pitching, and he yells, `Outside.’
"Everybody looks at him, and he said, `Oh, my system. My system. My computer is a little out of whack.’ We’ve got to get him in there (Sunday)."
SHORT HOPS: Kyle Seager’s club-leading 92 RBIs are four shy of his career-high 96 in 2014…the Mariners are 7-1 this season and 19-6 in their last 25 games at the Oakland Coliseum…Nori Aoki is batting .352 (32-for-91) in 23 career games against the Athletics.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners