OAKLAND, Calif. — Big start. Big finish. And the Mariners win again. A four-run ninth inning Tuesday night broke open a close game and produced an 8-3 victory over the Oakland A’s at the O.co Coliseum.
Corey Hart avoided an inning-ending double play in the ninth inning by beating a relay throw on his slow one-out grounder to short with the bases loaded.
“That’s about as quick as I’m getting down the line,” said Hart, who missed all of last season while recovering from surgeries on both knees. “I can’t do it all the time. But once in a while, I can pull it out of third (gear).”
When he did it this time, a run scored. A one-run lead was now two runs. And then the Mariners blew it open. Justin Smoak looped a two-run single on a pitch that shattered his bat. Kyle Seager then added an RBI double.
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The lead, that quickly, was five runs. Tom Wilhelmsen closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth. It was the Mariners’ fourth straight victory and their ninth in 11 games. It also lifted them over .500 at 16-15.
“We’re playing the little game,” said second basemen Robinson Cano, whose takeout slide at second aided Hart in avoiding the double play.
“We talk about that all the time. We’re not a team that has two or three guys who can hit 30 or 40 homers. We have to play the little game.”
The four-run ninth followed a three-run first inning against A’s starter Jesse Chavez that staked rookie lefty Roenis Elias to an early lead. Elias and the bullpen nursed the lead into the ninth.
The Mariners were clinging to a 4-3 edge when Brad Miller opened the ninth with a four-pitch walk from Jim Johnson, who then threw wildly on Michael Saunders’ sacrifice bunt.
“I was just looking for a pitch to get down,” Saunders said. “I was able to place it pretty well.”
That put runners at second and third with no outs and forced the A’s to shorten their infield. Johnson eased the pressure by striking out James Jones, which only prompted an intentional walk to Cano.
Hart’s soft grounder to short produced a run when he beat the relay to first. Then Smoak and Seager. And it looked like an easy night.
Elias, 3-2, battled command issues in the early innings — he threw just 25 of his first 51 pitches for strikes — but pitched into the seventh inning before exiting after a one-out walk to Nick Punto.
“I was a little erratic early,” Elias said with bullpen coach Mike Rojas serving as interpreter. “But I got my rhythm down and continued to go.”
Dominic Leone, another rookie, inherited that 4-3 lead from Elias and the top of the A’s order. Coco Crisp put down a terrific bunt up the third-base line for a sing;e that moved Punto to second.
Leone had a chance to get out of the inning when Jed Lowrie grounded to first, but Leone was slow to break to first, and the Mariners settled for one out. Leone still escaped when John Donaldson grounded into a force out.
Elias’ final line showed three runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Leone retired the first two batters in the ninth before walking Alberto Callaspo and yielding a single to Craig Gentry. That brought Charlie Furbush into the game for a left-on-left match-up against Brandon Moss.
Three-pitch strikeout. That got the game to the ninth, and you know what happened there.
Chavez, 2-1, had yielded just eight earned runs in 38 innings over six previous starts, but the Mariners slapped him for three in the first. They knocked him out with another run in the sixth.
The three-run first started after Jones, in his first career start, and Cano delivered successive one-out singles in the first inning.
Hart followed with a drive to deep right, but Gentry made a leaping catch at the wall. Jones moved to third, though, and scored on a wild pitch.
When Smoak pulled a double past third, Cano scored from second for a 2-0 lead. Chavez walked Seager, and Dustin Ackley followed with an RBI single to center, and it as 3-0.
Elias found two-out trouble in the second, which Punto capped with a two-run single. Both teams scored once in the sixth. That was it until the ninth.
“We’ve got some momentum,” Saunders said. “Our starting pitching has been great, and I know that’s how we win. We feed off our starting pitching. And our bullpen has been shutting people down this series.”
And the little things. Don’t forget the little things.