SEATTLE — This is what the Mariners wanted — all they could ask for, really — to have this opportunity 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 3-2 victory over the Mariners in 10 innings.
“It was tough to find the strike zone,” Rodney said, “but I did my best. I (can’t) worry about it. I’ll be ready for (Sunday).”
Even the most diehard fan will find it tough to locate a silver lining in this one. This was a giveaway. Rodney (1-6) walked four batters in the inning, including Jed Lowrie with the bases loaded on four pitches.
“You have that thought in the back of your head,” catcher Mike Zunino acknowledged, “that they didn’t quite beat you. You hate to lose a game that way, but you’ve just got to go back and play (on Sunday).”
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.
“You can’t put your head down because of one game,” said Robinson Cano, whose leadoff homer in the seventh inning against Oakland starter Sonny Gray erased a 2-1 deficit.
“What I know now more than ever is we’ve got a great team. We didn’t come this far by mistake. We’re here because we’ve got the talent. You’ve just got to stay together and be ready for (Sunday).”
Luke Gregerson (5-4) got the victory for pitching a scoreless ninth inning after replacing Gray. Sean Doolittle got his 21st save by protecting the lead in the 10th inning.
“At the end of the day, as an offense, we need to put ourselves in better position,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “We shouldn’t even be in that situation. We want (Rodney) late in the game with a lead.”
The Mariners turned to Rodney, who leads the majors with 45 saves, in a tie game to start the 10th inning. And, boy, it went bad quickly; he issued 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 Zunino blocked both. Rodney then battled back for a strikeout before walking Lowrie on four pitches.
“I thought he was around the zone enough,” Zunino said. “He missed a couple of pitches. I thought for the most part, he threw the ball well. He was missing the strike zone just by a little bit.”
Josh Reddick ended the inning by lining out to short, but the A’s had the only run they needed. It made for a sour conclusion for the crowd of 43,913, which marked the Mariners’ second home sellout of the season.
The other Safeco sellout was April 8 in the home opener.
Hernandez got for a no-decision after yielding two runs and seven hits in seven innings while striking out eight and walking none. Gray allowed two runs and five hits in eight innings.
The bullpens matched zeroes before Rodney stumbled.
“Certainly, in that last inning,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, “our patience paid off.”
The Mariners opened the scoring in the third when James Jones led off with a triple, and Chris Taylor followed with an RBI single.
Donaldson’s one-out homer in the sixth tied the game, and the A’s took a 2-1 lead on Eric Sogard’s two-out RBI single in the seventh. Cano pulled the Mariners back even with his homer in the seventh.
It was all prelude to Rodney’s four-walk 10th inning.
Manager Lloyd McClendon called it “a tough way to lose a game.” With 15 games remaining for a club locked in a tight race for postseason, few are tougher.