It seems the only thing that can derail Andrew Albers is a five-error first inning.
Albers pitched six shutout innings Saturday night as the Mariners pumped a little more life into their postseason aspirations with an 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
The victory pulled the Mariners back to .500 at 71-71 and to within three games of Minnesota in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. They have 20 games remaining.
Albers improved to 4-1 in five starts since the Mariners acquired him for petty cash in an Aug. 11 transaction from Atlanta. He had been pitching in the Braves’ system at Triple-A Gwinnett.
"It’s pretty fun right now," he said. "Getting to be a part of this group and a part of this wild-card chase, I’m just really enjoying it. I can’t really explain it. I’m just trying to have a lot of fun. So far I am."
Albers’ only loss in his five starts was that disastrous Sunday afternoon on Aug. 27 at Yankee Stadium when the Mariners made five errors in a six-run first inning. Even then, he pitched through the fifth and permitted just three earned runs.
"Well he’s sneaky," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He got some up. He elevated up when he had to. I thought we hit some balls hard, but he gave them six strong innings so you have to give him credit."
The Mariners backed Albers with an 11-hit attack, including home runs from Mitch Haniger and Nelson Cruz. Haniger had three hits and finished a double shy of the cycle. Cruz’s three-run drive capped a six-run fourth inning.
Robinson Cano also had three hits, including two doubles, which pushed his season total to 31 and placed him into exclusive company with Stan Musial as the only players in MLB history to get 30 or more doubles in 13 straight seasons.
"Haniger was right on everything," manager Scott Servais said. "I don’t know if Cruz can hit a ball any harder. Its as an absolute missile. And Cano has really picked it up."
Albers gave up two singles in the first inning and threw 25 pitches but escaped with no damage. The Mariners then grabbed a 1-0 lead on Haniger’s one-out homer later in the inning, a 393-foot drive to left on a 1-2 changeup.
It was the 12th homer allowed by Angels starter Andrew Heaney in 20 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery.
"He left it up," Haniger said. "He threw me two earlier in the at-bat. You recognize it better and better as you see it."
Haniger then opened the third inning with a triple on a drive into the right-field corner that Kole Calhoun couldn’t hold after nearly making a spectacular diving catch. Cano followed with an RBI double past third for a 2–0 lead.
Heaney struck out Nelson Cruz but exited after three pitches to Kyle Seager because of what the Angels later termed shoulder soreness. Blake Wood finished the inning with no further damage.
Guillermo Heredia’s leadoff double ignited a six-run fourth against Wood and Jesse Chavez that extended the lead to 8-0. The Mariners had six hits in the inning, including a three-run homer by Cruz.
Scioscia was ejected midway through the inning by home-plate umpire David Rackley for arguing balls and strikes.
After Albers pitched a scoreless sixth, the Angels pulled four of their starters before taking the field later in the inning: Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons and Martin Maldonado.
By the end, several other starters on both clubs had left the game.
***Standing next to the Man: Cano’s double in the third inning with his 30th of season and moved him into a select club. Cano joins Hall of Famer Stan Musial as the only players in history to reach 30 doubles in 13 consecutive seasons.
Musial had a 16-year run from 1942-58 with 1945 omitted because of military service. Tris Speaker (1916-27) and Honus Wagner (1899-1910) are the only other players to have 30 doubles in12 consecutive seasons.
Cano is the only player in history to have his streak at the start of his career.
And No. 31 on the season came in the sixth inning.
***Know your limitations: Albert Pujols settled for a single Friday night in the ninth inning on a line drive off the center-field wall. Failing to turn the hit into a double helped Edwin Diaz close out a one-run victory.
Pujols had a similar drive Saturday when leading off the fourth inning with the Mariners leading 2-0. This time, he tried for second and initially appeared to elude the tag by Cano, who took the throw from Heredia near the center-field wall.
The Mariners challenged the call, and a replay review determined Pujols was out. It also turned out to be a big play. The Angels got a walk and a double later in the inning but didn’t score.
***Holding form: Albers not only weathered a 25-pitch first inning. He also held form after extended time on the bench while the Mariners batted in the third and fourth innings.
The third inning included a pitching change stemming from an injury to Heaney, which meant an extended warm-up privilege for Wood. The Mariners then batted around in their six-run fourth inning.
Each time, Albers responded with a shutdown inning.
"I’ll take the six any day.," he said "But it’s a little difficult. You’ve got to go back out there and find rhythm again. Sometimes, that can be a little bit tough. It was a little bit of challenge tonight."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners