There was little to separate Felix Hernandez and Detroit’s Justin Verlander over the first seven innings Wednesday at Safeco Field. The two long-time aces matched one another in a throwback pitchers’ duel.
Then Nelson Cruz crushed a fastball from Tigers reliever Justin Wilson with one out in the eighth inning that lifted the Mariners to a 3-1 victory and a three-game sweep.
"It was nice," Cruz said. "Everybody is expecting something good to happen as a team. I mentioned before, I think the Griffey weekend (celebration) helped everybody."
Leonys Martin’s two-out RBI single provided an insurance run for Nick Vincent, who closed out the game because the Mariners wanted to stay away from rookie closer Edwin Diaz.
"That was fun," Vincent said. "I’ll do that a couple of times a month to give Diaz a couple of days off. That kid’s got electric stuff. He is young, so they’re going to protect him a little bit."
The Mariners couldn’t have scripted this much better.
Hernandez and Verlander were magnificent but each settled for a no-decision. Archimedes Caminero (1-0) got the victory for pitching a one-two-three eighth inning when Vincent closed out the game.
Vincent got his second save of the season — in just his second appearance since returning from a 32-game stay on the disabled list. Diaz had pitched in six of the previous eight games.
"It’s hard," manager Scott Servais admitted. "I’m not going to lie. When the ball goes out of the park by Cruz, it’s where you want to go. But we have to say disciplined with what we want to do with (Diaz).
"We’ve got a lot of baseball left to play."
Wilson (2-4) was the loser.
Kyle Seager followed Cruz’s homer with a single and went to second on a two-out walk to Adam Lind before Martin flicked a soft single into left field.
The victory extended the Mariners’ season-high winning streak to six games and completed an 8-2 homestand. They improved to 60-53 and pulled to within 1 1/2 games of Boston in the race for the final wild-card berth.
Servais also pointed to the weekend celebration in which the Mariners retired Ken Griffey Jr.’s number, following his recent induction into the Hall of Fame, as a launching point.
"It energized our ballclub," Servais said. "It energized the feeling around the organization and, really, in the city. It’s up to us to continue it on."
The Mariners had a chance to get the lead for Hernandez in the seventh inning after Martin led off with a single, but Ketel Marte fouled off two attempts at a sacrifice bunt before popping out to center.
Verlander then held the tie by retiring Nori Aoki and Seth Smith on fly balls to left.
That left Hernandez with a no-decision after limiting Detroit to one run and three hits in seventh innings. He struck out eight and walked four while throwing a season-high 117 pitches.
Caminero replaced Hernandez to start the eighth inning — and his first pitch was 3 feet outside and went untouched to the backstop. No matter. Caminero worked a one-two-three inning.
And that ensured Verlander would also get a no-decision after holding the Mariners to one run and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out six and walked two while throwing a season-high 121 pitches.
"It was what it was billed to be," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Two very good pitchers going at it, Felix and Verlander, and they both pitched outstanding. You know tonight the difference was the eighth inning."
Wilson replaced Verlander to start the Mariners’ eighth. Wilson retired Robinson Cano on a fly to deep right, but Cruz followed with a 422-foot drive to center.
"He’s always aggressive with the fastball," Cruz said. "That’s something I can hit."
Hernandez opened the game with his first one-two-three first inning in five starts since returning from the disabled list. He had allowed three runs in three of the previous four.
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead on Cano’s two-out homer in the first inning, a 369-foot slicing drive to left on a 1-2 change-up from Verlander.
Hernandez pitched around leadoff singles in the second and third innings but paid for a leadoff walk in the fourth to Ian Kinsler, who stole second — on a overturned call after a replay.
Kinsler moved to third on Tyler Collins’ grounder to first but held on Miguel Cabrera’s fly to short right. After Victor Martinez walked, J.D. Martinez yanked an RBI single through the left side.
It stayed 1-1 until Cruz’s homer.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Third baseman Kyle Seager made a diving backhand stop on James McCann’s hard one-hop liner in the third inning and turned it into a double play.
PLUS: Leonys Martin rebounded from a five-strikeout game by getting two hits, including an RBI single in the eighth inning that produced the game’s final run…Felix Hernandez had his best start in five outings since returning from a seven-week stay on the disabled list…reliever Archimedes Caminero has four scoreless innings in three appearances since arriving in a trade from Pittsburgh.
MINUS: Ketel Marte fouled off two attempts at a sacrifice bunt in a 1-1 game after Leonys Martin’s leadoff single in the seventh inning…Adam Lind was hitless in four at-bats.
STAT PACK: Robinson Cano reached 25 homers for the sixth time in his 12-year career. The only other second baseman to get 25 or more in six seasons were Jeff Kent, Dan Uggla and Ryan Sandberg. No second baseman has done it seven times.
QUOTABLE: Felix Hernandez said he is rounding back into form after a 43-game stay on the disabled list: "I feel better. Better pitches. Better command. A zero in the first inning! Nice. About time."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners swept a series against Detroit at Safeco Field for the first time since July 29-31, 2003. They did sweep a three-game series in Detroit from April 24-26, 2012…the Mariners have hit 12 homers in the eighth inning or later to tie a game or take the lead…twelve of Nelson Cruz’s 28 homers have given the Mariners the lead…Felix Hernandez’s 117 pitches marked his highest total since throwing 119 on Sept. 1, 2012 against the Angels. It was the 27th time in his career that he’s thrown at least 117 pitches.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners