Seattle Mariners

Balk, no-balk call looms large for Felix, Mariners, and no sweep before Astros series

Felix Hernandez frustrated by balk call, happy with command, but Mariners fall to A's

Mariners starter Felix Hernandez lasted 6 1/3 innings and he allowed five hits, no walks and struck out seven in a solid start against the Oakland Athletics. The difference? A two-run home run after a balk, no-balk call in the first inning.
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Mariners starter Felix Hernandez lasted 6 1/3 innings and he allowed five hits, no walks and struck out seven in a solid start against the Oakland Athletics. The difference? A two-run home run after a balk, no-balk call in the first inning.

Balk? No Balk?

Ended up being no sweep – and the Seattle Mariners sure could have used one with this next team coming to town.

The Mariners didn’t get much from their on-fire offense against Oakland Athletics left-hander Sean Manaea and fell 2-1 in the series finale on Sunday, which halted the Mariners’ four-game win streak.

But they did take the series after winning the first two games, including crushing 17 hits and four home runs against the A’s on Saturday.

Sunday? Seattle (8-5) had just two hits, though one was Taylor Motter’s solo home run.

“Much different ball game today,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Manaea lasted seven innings and he dropped his ERA to 1.63.

“You got to give Manaea credit. He threw the ball really well,” Servais said. “Our offense had been going so good so I didn’t expect to see that type of game out there today. That’s baseball. That’s the beauty of it.”

And there’s more talented pitchers to come.

The Mariners (8-5) get a few hours to prepare for one of the more potent lineups and loaded pitching rotations in the majors with the reigning World Series-champion Houston Astros coming to Seattle for a four-game series – the Mariners’ first meeting with Houston this year.

It will start with left-hander James Paxton facing Houston’s former Cy Young left-hander Dallas Keuchal in a 7:10 p.m. game Monday.

“They got a good ball club,” Servais said. “They won the World Series last year, obviously. But that’s last year. We’re a different club. We’ll see.”

Not that Sunday was all bad.

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Felix Hernandez continued his career success against the Athletics. And his 6 1/3 innings was his longest and seemed like one of his sharpest outings of his four starts this year.

But one mistake:

Jed Lowrie had the green light with a 3-0 count in the first inning. Hernandez’ 88.5 mph fastball caught the middle of the plate and Lowrie crushed it over the right-field wall for a two-run home run.

Lowrie entered the day tied for the most hits in the majors with Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons and the Padres’ Jose Pirela.

But probably the turning point in the game was a call that turned into a no-call.

Lowrie’s two-run shot came just after Hernandez looked to have Marcus Semien picked off at first base, only for the umpires to call it a balk.

“It wasn’t a balk,” Hernandez said, shaking his head. “Stepped off the rubber. I don’t know what happened there.”

The umpires met and ultimately agreed. But because the original balk call blew the play dead, Semien got to saunter back to first base for what amounted to a do-over. Like the play never happened.

That loomed large when Lowrie made Hernandez pay.

“I just tried to go sinker down and away,” Hernandez said. “But it didn’t sink enough. I didn’t know he was going to swing but he was patient and he made a good swing. It cost us the game right there.”

No run support for Felix Hernandez? What is this? 2010?

Actually, the last time Hernandez pitched at least 6 innings, allowed two runs or fewer and the Mariners lost was also against the Athletics – when he tossed seven innings, allowed no runs with 10 strikeouts on April 10, 2016.

But even an older Hernandez still didn’t blame the Mariners’ bats.

“No, I just give credit to the other guy,” Hernandez said. “He pitched a great game. It was tough for us.”

Felix Hernandez's solid start wasn't enough in a 2-1 loss to the Athletics on Sunday but the Mariners still took the series. Manager Scott Servais discusses Sean Manaea, solid bullpen.

The Mariners had something going in the eighth inning, though, when Mike Marjama walked and speedy Dee Gordon followed with a bunt down the third-base line to Matt Chapman.

Chapman made an incredible play – quickly scooping the ball with his glove and gunning Gordon out at first, though it was really close. Officials went to the video review and confirmed the ruling.

Servais had said after Chapman did that the first game of the series that he thought no other third baseman makes that play. Then Chapman did it twice.

“Not many get down the line quicker than Dee Gordon,” Servais said. “Chapman is an outstanding defensive player. I’ve seen Matt for a long time and he’s got one of the best arms in the league. And it’s kind of his play. He got after it and it was bang-bang at first. Thought it was going to go our way and it didn’t Big play in the game.”

Gordon’s hit streak ended at 17 games dating back to last season with the Marlins. He had a hit in each of the Mariners’ first 12 games to start this season.

So it amounted to a sacrifice bunt. Jean Segura had a hard-hit ball but he flew out to center field to end the threat.

Three other takeaways:

A's Gordon.jpg
Seattle Mariners' Dee Gordon rubs his right eye as he turns away from the plate during a turn at bat against the Oakland Athletics during a baseball game Sunday, April 15, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

NO BREAK: Nelson Cruz and Mitch Haniger weren’t rewarded for crushing the ball. Like some other Mariners.

Cruz shot a one-hopper at a missile-like 116-mph at A’s shortstop Marcus Semien. Semien was just trying to protect himself and got his glove on the ball and threw Cruz out at first base.

And earlier, Haniger went one Semien’s way with Seager on base. It was hit so hard that Semien took off his glove to shake his hand on his way back to the A’s dugout.

In all the Mariners hit the ball in the air often, including five line-outs. But only the two base hits.

“I think both teams didn’t get much to fall,” Motter said. “There were a lot of hard-hit balls right at people. That’s just the nature of the beast, sometimes. You’re going to have those games and you have to try to find ways to pull them out.”

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez throws as Oakland Athletics' Marcus Semien leads-off of first base behind during a baseball game Sunday, April 15, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

KING’S COURT: No pitcher has enjoyed facing one team more than this Hernandez-Athletics relationship.

Hernandez entered with a 25-9 records, 2.60 ERA in 46 career starts against the A’s. He’s the only active pitcher with at least 25 wins against one opponents.

Only he didn’t get his 26th against them.

But Hernandez did have his longest outing of four starts this year – 6 1/3 innings and he allowed five hits, no walks and struck out seven, including striking out the side in the third.

Few pitches were as filthy as his curveball to end the sixth inning, when it dived into the dirt with Matt Olson chasing. Hernandez pumped his fists out of adrenaline.

That at-bat explained some of how Hernandez has adapted as a pitcher at this stage in his career. He threw Olson curveballs in five of the six pitches, with the other being a changeup.

“I mean, four straight curveballs, I didn’t think he was thinking about that,” Hernandez smiled. “I didn’t think he was going to look for the curveball the fourth straight time.”

GREAT ESCAPE: Chasen Bradford got a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth inning.

And the A’s had big-bats Matt Olson and Matt Chapman due.

But Bradford continues to be a bright spot since his call-up from Triple-A Tacoma. The right-hander has yet to allow a run in 5 1/3 innings in three relief appearances after he struck out Olson and got Chapman to line-out to Guillermo Heredia in left field to end the threat.

That came after James Pazos relieved Hernandez in the seventh with one out and runners at first and second. His first pitch induced a 6-4-3 double play.

And Nick Vincent tossed a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

“I thought that was the best inning Nick Vincent has thrown for us,” Servais said. “I thought it was really crisp. Bradford continues to do a good job. He goes right after them, He challenges guys.

“You can’t just lean on the same guys every day and down in the ball game today we knew we were going to go to Pazos and Bradford kept us right there. Just not enough offensively.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
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