SEATTLE — Robinson Cano isn’t looking at the calendar. After the Mariners opened a key weekend series Friday with a 4-2 victory over the Oakland A’s, Cano declared: “The playoffs started for us today.”
Let him explain.
“We lost two (earlier this week) against Houston,” he said. “Now, we came back today. These are the games you want to play. If you want to stay in the race, you have to compete against these guys.
“We play Anaheim next, then we play Houston, Toronto and we play Anaheim again.”
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If this was the start, it was all the Mariners could want. They muscled up with three homers in support of lefty James Paxton before closing out the victory with three scoreless innings from their bullpen.
Cano’s homer in the first inning against Oakland starter Jason Hammel set the tone, but it was solo blasts by Logan Morrison and Kendrys Morales after the A’s tied the game that proved decisive.
By winning, the Mariners (80-66) pulled into a tie with Kansas City for the American League’s final wild-card spot. They trail Oakland (81-66) by one-half game for the top wild-card berth.
The Mariners also clinched the season series against the A’s, which could be a factor in tiebreaker scenarios.
Not a bad night.
“I told my guys, this is real simple,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “This is playoff baseball. Averages, slumps…all of those things are out the window. What you did against a guy last time really makes no difference.
“It’s all about grinding your at-bats out, staying in your inner circle and believing in each other. If you do that, you’ve got a good chance to get it done.”
The homers by Morrison and Morales enabled Paxton (6-2) to hand a two-run lead to rookie reliever Carson Smith to start the seventh inning. Paxton gave up two runs, one earned, and four hits in six innings.
“I love his sinker,” McClendon said. “I thought I would throw something at (the A’s) that they hadn’t seen.”
Smith responded by recording five straight outs before issuing a two-out walk in the eighth. When the A’s sent up Adam Dunn as a pinch-hitter, the Mariners countered by bringing in Charlie Furbush.
Dunn flied out to left.
Fernando Rodney closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth inning for his major-league-leading 45th, which also matched the franchise record set by Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2001.
Rodney pumped some extra drama into the evening when he started the ninth by yielding singles to Brandon Moss and Sam Fuld, which put the tying runs on base with no outs and turned over the A’s lineup.
Then three straight outs and…arrow shoot.
The Mariners staked Paxton to a 2-0 lead by scoring single runs in the first two innings, but A’s pulled even by scoring single runs in the third and fourth.
Paxton walked three in the third inning but stranded three runners by striking out Jed Lowrie. When Lowrie swung through the third strike, Paxton reacted with a Felix Hernandez-style show of emotion.
“Got a little fired up,” Paxton admitted. “I got that from (Hernandez), I think. That was a big point in the game right there. I’ve got to get that guy out to keep us in the game. It was just a big moment.”
Hammel (2-6) had retired nine in a row before Morrison drove a 1-0 fastball into right-field seats with one out in the fifth inning for a 3-2 lead.
The A’s pulled Hammel for a pinch-hitter in the sixth (because they surrendered their DH earlier in the game). Hammel gave up three runs and four hits in five innings.
Billy Burns lined a pinch single, for his first major-league hit, and stole second, but Paxton retired the next two hitters.
Eric O’Flaherty replaced Hammel to start the sixth and yielded a one-out single to Cano on a grounder into center.
Cano was thrown out attempting to steal, but Morales hit O’Flaherty’s next pitch over the right-center wall for a 4-2 lead.
That’s how it ended.
“We played a good game today,” Cano said, “but now we’ve got to get ready for tomorrow.”
Just like postseason.