SEATTLE — When it became official Sunday that the Mariners’ postseason chase had come up short, disappointment quickly gave way to appreciation as the crowd of 40,823 at Safeco Field rose and cheered.
When Felix Hernandez departed in the sixth inning, having secured the American League’s ERA crown, that same crowd roared its appreciation. Robinson Cano also got a nice ovation when replaced later in the sixth.
Just imagine the scene when/if the Mariners ever return to postseason.
It won’t be this year.
The Mariners closed their season with a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. And while this marked their best season since 2007, they fell one game short of ending what is now a 13-year postseason drought.
Oakland secured the AL’s final Wild Card berth with a 4-0 victory at Texas in a game that ended while the Mariners were batting in the fifth inning.
It was when the “F” slipped next to that game on the big scoreboard in left field, signifying that the score was a final, that the crowd, after a brief collective groan, rose and applauded.
“It was a pretty bittersweet moment,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “Obviously, we’re watching that game. When we found out Oakland had won, that was a pretty cool moment when everybody stood up and gave the ovation.
“I was on-deck for that. That was pretty special to be able to look around and see everybody standing up and applauding.”
Soon thereafter, Hernandez (15-6) returned to the mound and recorded the first out in the sixth inning before manager Lloyd McClendon summoned Brandon Maurer from the bullpen.
The applause for Hernandez as he walked toward the dugout was loud and sustained. He paused near the steps, raised his cap over his head while turning in a complete circle to salute the crowd.
“I’ve just got to say thanks to the fans for all for all of the support they gave me all year,” Hernandez said. “I love being here. I love the fans. That was really great.”
After Maurer recorded the inning’s second out, McClendon sent Brad Miller onto the field to replace Cano, who was serenaded with a “Rob-by” chant as he departed.
“That was great to see the fans do that,” Cano said, “not only to myself, but to see the way they reacted when we took Felix out of the game. They really appreciated what we’ve done. They know we fought, and we battled.”
The cheers for Cano were nice but not close to the treatment afforded Hernandez, who yielded just one hit while striking out seven and walking none.
In doing so, Hernandez lowered his ERA from 2.18 to 2.14 and passed Chicago’s Chris Sale (2.17) for the AL lead. Hernandez also bolstered his credentials for the Cy Young Award balloting.
“If Oakland was losing,” Hernandez said, “I was not going to come out of the game.”
The Mariners entered the day trailing Oakland by one game in the Wild Card chase. They needed to beat the Angels and have the A’s lose at Texas to force a play-in game Monday at Safeco against Oakland.
The A’s game at Texas started roughly one hour before Hernandez delivered the first pitch against the Angels. Oakland had a 2-0 lead at that point.
The news from Texas never got any better.
“I was thinking, `They (Texas) might come back,’” Hernandez said. “Then I thought, `I’ve just got to go out there and do my thing. Not pay attention to that. Just go out there and work.”
The Mariners opened the scoring after Logan Morrison’s one-out single in the second inning. Michael Saunders followed with an RBI double over the head of center fielder Mike Trout.
Angels starter Cory Rasmus (3-2) limited the damage to one run by retiring Mike Zunino and Chris Taylor on routine fly balls to left.
Hernandez was in top form from the beginning in bouncing back from his worst performance of the season in last Tuesday’s 10-2 loss at Toronto, when he allowed eight runs in 4 2/3 innings.
After opening the game with two strikeouts, Hernandez yielded a broken-bat single by Albert Pujols before retiring Howie Kendrick on a fly to center.
Pujols’ single was the only runner allowed by Hernandez, who struck out two in the second inning and three in the third.
Rasmus departed after a leadoff walk in the fourth inning to Kendrys Morales. In came Joe Thatcher, who struck out Seager before Morrison pulled a single through the left side.
Then Saunders again. This time, he sliced a soft double into left field along the line. Morales scored as Morrison stopped at third.
Again, the Angels went to their bullpen, replacing Thatcher with Yoslan Herrera for a right-on-right matchup against Zunino.
It didn’t work.
Zunino served a two-run flare into left field for a 4-0 lead.
But even as the Mariners extended their lead, their postseason hopes faded. Oakland struck for two runs in the ninth inning at Texas for a four-run advantage.
That score, when posted, sent a low rumbling of groans through the Safeco stands. Shortly thereafter, the A’s victory became final…and the Mariners (87-75) were eliminated from any chance to reach postseason.
“It did not end the way we wanted,” Cano said. “Sometimes, things have to happen. Maybe next year we’ll be a better team, and we’ll end up in first place. You never know.”