OAKLAND, Calif. — The narrative the Mariners want to see from Saturday’s rollicking 5-4 victory over Oakland in 11 innings is one that points to their resilience and improved ability to land and absorb punches.
And that was there, certainly.
Shortstop Brad Miller embodied two major pluses, first as the middleman in a game-saving relay that cut down what would have been the winning run at the plate in the 10th inning.
And later, it was Miller who drove an RBI double to left in a tough left-on-left matchup against Athletics reliever Fernando Abad. That was the winning run after the Mariners twice failed to hold late-inning leads.
“The biggest thing is last year,” catcher Mike Zunino said, “we didn’t have too many of these games that we pulled out. It think we had some on the reverse end.
“To win a game like this early, and to know that we can come back — (Nelson) Cruz hit a huge homer. It’s nice to see that early and be able to build on that.”
Yes, Cruz unleashed his Boomstick for the first time as a Mariner by crushing a three-run homer in the eighth inning. That put the Mariners back on top, at 4-2, after they let a 1-0 lead slip away in the seventh.
“It’s important," said Cruz, who also contributed two singles to a 10-hit attack. “I have to hit. The whole lineup has to contribute.”
But this game nearly turned into a crushing loss when Danny Farquhar and Carson Smith squandered that two-run lead in the eighth. And rookie Tyler Olson only gained his first victory because of a textbook relay play.
“God knows we worked on that relay stuff enough in spring training,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It was a great throw and a great pick by Zunino — unlike the one in spring training that caused us to work on it.”
Right, let’s start there.
Olson began the 10th by yielding a single to Ben Zobrist, who tried to score on Ike Davis’ one-out drive into the left-center gap.
Center fielder Austin Jackson played the carom off the wall and threw a two-hopper to Miller.
“As a relay throw, it was fine,” Miller said. “As long as it’s low. If you go high, and I’ve got to leave my feet, then it’s tough. The same with my throw home. If I make Zee leave his feet, it’s tough.”
Zunino had the play in front of him.
“I knew Miller would give me a good throw,” he said. “The biggest thing there is getting a hop I can handle, and he was able to leave me a long hop. I just had to ride that hop out and, hopefully, stick it.”
Zunino caught the ball at his hip and applied the tag. Shortly thereafter, the game went to the 11th.
Logan Morrison started the winning rally with a leadoff single that beat an overshifted infield. Up came Dustin Ackley who, earlier, hit a homer against Oakland ace Sonny Gray that provided the game’s only run for six innings.
This time, Ackley executed a sacrifice bunt. Miller then drove a 1-0 pitch into left field for an RBI double and a 5-4 lead.
“Abad has pitched me pretty tough,” he said. “I was trying to catch something out front. He left something over the plate. I was able to stay on it.”
One run was enough for Fernando Rodney, who recorded three quick outs in the bottom of the inning. So it all ended well but, man, what a wild ride.
Lefty J.A. Happ outpitched Gray for six innings before giving up two runs in the seventh. Cruz’s homer in the eighth erased that one-run deficit — after the McClendon won a key replay challenge.
The Athletics botched what could have been an inning-ending double play on a hopper back to the mound.
The throw to second by reliever Eric O’Flaherty pulled shortstop Marcus Semien away from the base, and Semien then bounced the throw to first. Initially, umpire Tripp Gibson signaled an out at second.
Replays showed Semien was late to the base. The inning continued, and Cruz rocked a three-run homer against Dan Otero. That could have been enough, but the A’s scored twice later in the inning.
All of it, though, was mere prelude for Miller. His throw. Then his double.
“(Friday) night, we got punched in the face (in a 12-0 loss),” McClendon said. “And we got punched in the mouth today as well. I thought our guys rebounded and did a little punching of their own.
“This shows the type of fortitude this club has because that was a gut-wrenching-type of game. They really battled and continued to fight. They came out on top in the end.”