The road to October baseball for the Los Angeles Angels leads through Seattle, and that road got a bit longer Thursday.
The Seattle Mariners broke open a close game with a four-run seventh inning, then added more in the ninth inning of their 9-4 victory over the Angels.
It cost the Angels the chance to gain ground on AL wild card rival Oakland, and if anyone wants to call the Mariners ‘spoilers,’ they’re mostly OK with it.
“We’re trying to win all our games, and if that spoils someone else’s season, that’s OK, too,” Casper Wells said. “It’s cool. The American League West is one tough division. Every game we play means something.
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“Next year, we want to be one of these teams fighting for a post-season berth.”
Think the last six Mariners games matter? Seattle plays three times in Oakland, then a final three-game series in Seattle with the Angels.
“It’s a great experience for our kids,” manager Eric Wedge said. “For most of them, it’s the first time they’ve been in the thick of it – and these are all playoff-style atmospheres.”
After losing the first two games of this series, the Mariners and Angels played in front of a crowd of 37,377, and while there were mistakes made on both sides, the game was intense from the outset.
After a bit of back and forth, the game was tied in the fifth inning when Most Valuable Player Mike Trout learned what it was like to play against a defender much like himself.
Trout hammered a ball to right-center field, and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez – a former Gold Glove Award winner – caught it on the run, slammed into the wall and went down hard.
With an Angels runner at first base, Gutierrez flipped the ball to teammate Wells, who threw to the infield and nearly doubled off Chris Ianetta.
“That was a tough play, the ball was hit hard,” Gutierrez said. “I hit my wrist, my head and my shoulder going into the wall. I threw the ball to Casper because I couldn’t get up.”
Gutierrez told Wedge and a team trainer he was fine and stayed in the game, catching another fly ball before returning to the Seattle dugout.
“I was feeling dizzy,” Gutierrez said. “I had that concussion, so it scared me, but I’m fine now.”
“That was a big play because if that ball goes off the wall they tie the score and have a man in scoring position with nobody out,” manager Wedge said. “Gutierrez has no fear of the wall. That’s the way he plays the game.”
That catch helped starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who wound up working six innings and allowing only one earned run in picking up his eighth win of the season.
Ahead after six innings, 3-2, Iwakuma came out of the game – and the Mariners blew it open in the seventh.
New father Michael Saunders and Casper Wells opened the rally with singles, and Wells moved up on a bunt by Brendan Ryan, with Saunders forced to hold at third.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia then ordered Dustin Ackley intentionally walked to face rookie Trayvon Robinson – who’d entered the game when Gutierrez came out.
Bases loaded, one out. What was Robinson thinking?
“I knew what they were doing and why,” he said. “They wanted me to roll over a pitch and hit into a double play. I wanted to have a good at-bat there. I picked one spot and looked for one pitch there, and if I didn’t get it, I wasn’t going to swing until I got to two strikes.”
It never got to two strikes.
Right-handed pitcher Garrett Richards walked Robinson, forcing in the run that made it 4-2, and the Mariners wouldn’t let Richards off that easily.
“We haven’t had a big inning in awhile,” Wedge said. “It was nice to see us get one there.”
Kyle Seager singled in a run, Jesus Montero chased another home with a fly ball and John Jaso doubled home a fourth run of the inning, making it 7-2.
The Angels scored twice in the eighth inning, but the Mariners got those runs back with two of their own in the ninth – when the Angels got sloppy and threw a ball away.
The win was Seattle’s 73rd of the season with six games left. Each of those games, on paper, means more to the opposition than to the Mariners.
That’s just in theory.
“I like to win games no matter what the situation or who we’re playing,” Jaso said. “Six games left, I want to win all six.”