Hisashi Iwakuma leads the majors in victories since May 20, and if that seems an arbitrary date, so be it.
On Saturday, he won again in large part because he only needed to be good enough to get a lead to the Mariners’ bullpen. A four-reliever relay closed out a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics with 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
"This reminds me of when I was playing back in New York," second baseman Robinson Cano said. "We have the best bullpen in the game right now. We just need to stay ahead until we get late in the game."
When rookie closer Edwin Diaz got the final three outs for his sixth save in six chances, the Mariners had their seventh victory in eight games. At 61-54, they remained two games behind Boston for the final wild-card spot.
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"Our bullpen was outstanding," manager Scott Servais said. "It was the story of the game. They were very good, and they needed to be. We didn’t have much room for error."
Iwakuma (14-7) gave up three runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings but won for the 13th time in 16 starts since May 20. Another arbitrary date: the Mariners’ bullpen has a 1.18 ERA since Aug. 1.
The Mariners are 9-3 in that span.
Arquimedes Caminero inherited that one-run lead to start the Oakland seventh, which began when Coco Crisp reached on pop-fly single into center between four players.
Crisp stole second with one out — and did so easily. He moved to third on Stephen Vogt’s grounder to first, but Caminero struck out Khris Davis on five fastballs: 100 mph, 99, 101, 101 and 100.
"I had a man on third," Caminero said, "and I didn’t want to give up the tying run. I don’t want to get beat on my second- or third-best pitches."
Tom Wilhelmsen followed with a one-two-three eighth inning before Diaz closed it out.
The Mariners put runners on second and third with one out in the ninth inning on Chris Iannetta’s line-hugging double but failed to score when Ketel Marte hit a weak pop to short and Nori Aoki grounded out.
It didn’t matter. Diaz made the one-run lead stand up.
Iwakuma wasn’t top form. He awoke Friday with a sore neck, presumably from sleeping wrong. It wasn’t until noon Saturday that Servais was convinced Iwakuma would even make the start.
"It speaks to the type of professional he is," Servais said. "He just goes out there and battles."
Iwakuma worked around some early trouble and appeared in command when he entered the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead. But Davis’ leadoff homer, and Billy Butler’s one-out double brought the bullpen into the game.
The Athletics scored twice in the inning.
"As the game progressed," Iwakuma said, "I started to feel stiffness. As you saw, my body (on his delivery) started to fly open. My elbow wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be.
"Today, I got very lucky for the win. I got very lucky in general."
Luck favors a strong bullpen.
Oakland starter Kendall Graveman (8-8) gave up four runs in six innings.
Nelson Cruz tied the game with a leadoff homer in a fourth inning, before Cano capped a three-run fifth with a two-run shot on a line drive to center.
"I was Just hoping it would go over (the center fielder’s head," Cano said. "I knew I hit it good, but in Oakland with the weather here… With the heat, the ball flies more. But thank God, it went out."
That was all the Mariners got.
It was all they needed.
PLAY OF THE GAME: First baseman Adam Lind made a long run into the deep foul ground at the Oakland Coliseum to make a catch on Ryon Healy’s foul pop for the first out in the ninth inning.
"When there’s depth on then ball," Lind said, "I have a little better chance of catching it than when it’s straight over my head. There’s a lot of room out there, and I just put my head down and ran.
"The two masses met perfectly. I really just stuck my glove out and caught it. It went in."
PLUS: Nelson Cruz went 2-for-4 and is batting .435 (10-for-23) over his last six games…closer Edwin Diaz has allowed only one run in 15 1/3 innings over his last 16 appearances…reliever Arquimedes Caminero has five scoreless innings in four outings since arriving in an Aug. 6 trade from Pittsburgh…catcher Chris Iannetta went 2-for-3 with a walk. It was his second multi-hit game since June 20…Nori Aoki went just 1-for-5, but he has hits in 18 of his last 19 games with an at-bat against Oakland.
MINUS: The Mariners wasted a chance to add an insurance run in the ninth inning after putting runners at second and third with one out. The key out was a pop-up by Ketel Marte, who is 1-for-15 in four games since returning from a three-week absence for mononucleosis…Leonys Martin was hitless in four at-bats and is 7-for-42 in August.
STAT PACK: Hisashi Iwakuma improved to 61-32 in his career for a .656 winning percentage that ranks first in franchise history among pitchers with at least 90 decisions. The rest of the top five: Randy Johnson (130-74, .637), Jamie Moyer (145-87, .625), Freddy Garcia (76-50, .603) and Felix Hernandez (149-105, .587).
QUOTABLE: Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano argued who had the more impressive home run with each pointing to the other’s blast. Both went to center. Cruz was a towering 411-foot fly; Cano hit a 426-foot line drive.
The distance favored Cano, but he said: "This is a ballpark where you’ve got to hit it. His was to tie the game. You’ve got to tie it before you go ahead."
SHORT HOPS: The crowd of 35,067 was a sellout at the Oakland Coliseum, which had a Star Wars fireworks promotion…the Mariners are 20-21 in one-run games…the Mariners’ last 14 games have been decided by three or fewer runs. They are 10-4 in that span…the Mariners have nine saves and six holds since their last blown save.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners