By Meg Wochnick Staff writer
SEATTLE -- In the most important game of the season to date, the Seattle Mariners’ grip on the wild-card chase got harder to reach, taking a step back instead of inching closer.Dropping two out of three on the weekend series to the Oakland Athletics -- including Sunday’s 4-0 loss in the finale -- has the Mariners going backward in a race for their first playoff appearance since 2001.“We had a lot of opportunities -- that was good part,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “... the bad part is we couldn’t drive anyone in.”
That was too obvious. Let the numbers speak:* 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.* 11 baserunners stranded.
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“That happens,” McClendon said.
But if you’re an optimist, then there’s a bright side following a 2-4 homestand on the second-to-final homestand of the season: a final road-trip, where the Mariners have the best road record in the American League.
It’s brutal, though: 11 games over 11 days with a lot at stake. They’re facing an Angels team which can clinch the American League West Division as early as Wednesday, a below-.500 Houston team that, like Oakland, won two out of three at Safeco Field, and a Toronto team that’s three games behind the Mariners for a wild-card berth.
As much drama as the A’s have been on as of late -- watching their-once 2.5-game lead in the division on July 30 take a nosedive into trailing the Angels by double-digit games -- they now have a 2.5-game lead over Seattle for the top wild-card spot and have won back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 22-23. Kansas City’s 8-4 loss to Boston puts the Mariners a full game behind the Royals for the second wild-card spot.
Centerfielder Austin Jackson, one of three Mariners with playoff experience on prior clubs, is focused on the task at hand starting with the Angels Monday.
“I think if you start worrying about the standings too much,” he said, “it can start to play with your head a little bit. “Control what we can control ... keep playing who we have to play, and I think we’ll be alright.”
Jackson was the only Mariner to have two hits off A’s starter Jon Lester, a Puyallup native and Bellarmine Prep graduate, who earned his 15th victory and sixth with the A’s since being traded from Boston before the July 31 trade deadline to bolster Oakland’s starting rotation. Jackson, however, was stranded twice on the basepaths, as the Mariners (80-68) were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Lester.
The seventh inning summed up the Mariners’ day. Trailing 2-0 with solo home runs from Brandon Moss and Sam Fuld off starter Chris Young, McClendon turned to his bench, using Endy Chavez, Logan Morrison and Michael Saunders as pinch-hitters. Singles by Chavez and Morrison, plus an intentional walk to Robinson Cano, loaded the bases for Kendrys Morales.Morales came up empty.
He flew out to left field to end the threat after the inning started with two on and zero outs. Morales finished 0-for-3, stranding six baserunners.
It’s the Mariners’ first shutout since a 2-0 loss to Texas on Aug. 25. Oakland added two runs, in the eighth of Taijuan Walker off consecutive hits and consecutive errors.
It, too, overshadowed Young’s start: 6-plus innings, four hits and five strikeouts. The pair of solo home runs was the first multi-homerun game allowed this season; he allowed one over his seven previous outings.
While the Mariners can’t change what happened this homestand, more opportunities to close the wild-card gap start Monday in Anaheim.
“We’re still right there,” Young said … “If we play good baseball, if we find a way to win, I think we can still pull this off.”