Seattle Mariners

Stayin’ alive: Iwakuma, 3 HRs send Mariners past Angels, keep playoff hopes flickering

Hisashi Iwakuma picked a decent time for a rebound.

The absolutely mandatory, Mariners season-saving time, in fact.

Iwakuma, pitching with a tight back, tight groin and even tighter margin of error for Seattle’s dwindling playoff hopes, allowed only two solo home runs and two singles in 6 1-3 innings. Iwakuma left the game for precautionary reasons before Fernando Rodney – always one to make it interesting -- allowed an RBI double with one out in the ninth, got a fly out, then struck out Brennan Boesch.,

That plus home runs by Kendrys Morales, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley keep the Mariners (barely) alive in the American League playoff chase with a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on a Friday night when balls were flying out of Safeco Field.

During the third inning, the Mariners learned Oakland won at Texas 6-2. That meant Seattle had to win to retain any mathematical possibility of their first postseason in 13 years.

They did -- thanks Rodney’s 48th* save to extend his franchise record, to the most timely power outburst, and to the best rebound by Iwakuma (15-9) this season if not his three-year career with Seattle.

After allowing 15 earned runs in his previous three starts, the right-hander throttled every Angel not named Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout to set a career high with his 15th victory.

The only hope left for the Mariners to make their first postseason in 13 years is to win Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon against the division-champion Angles at home, and for the Athletics to lose Saturday and Sunday at last-place Texas. That improbable scenario would force a one-game playoff on Monday at Safeco Field for the American League’s second wild-card spot.

The first wild card went Friday night to Kansas City.

Seattle’s three homers off Weaver (18-9) were the most the Angels’ ace had allowed in more than two years, since July 15, 2012, in a start at the bandbox known as Yankee Stadium in New York. Not the way he and the Angels exactly wanted him to tune up for his start in next week’s American League division series.

Iwakuma got walloped on Seattle’s just-completed 4-7 road trip. He allowed seven runs in 3 1-3 innings to these same Angles 11 days earlier, then four runs in 4 1-3 at Houston in his previous start. Going back six starts entering Friday, he had a 9.12 ERA. He looked more like he was 33 years old going on 34 and far less like the guy who was fourth in the AL Cy Young voting last year.

Until Friday.

For the first half of the game the Angels consistently flailed at balls Iwakuma sent spinning low and away and low and inside. The only hits he allowed in the first five innings were a single by Albert Pujols in the first inning and one by Howie Kendrick with two outs in the fourth. Forty-four of his first 62 pitches were strikes.

Calhoun crushed Iwakuma’s 63rd pitch for a home run. Two pitches later Trout did the same thing, his 36th homer of the year. Mariners pitching coach Rick Waits came out to talk to Iwakuma after that, and Brandon Maurer starting warming up in the bullpen. There is, after all, no more margin for error in this Mariners season.

But Iwakuma rebounded sharply from the back-to-back home runs by striking out Pujols and Kendrick to end the top of the sixth. That kept his lead at 4-2.

The Mariners offense came when Morales sent a centered, 1-1 fastball from Weaver deep into the right-field bleachers leading off the bottom of the second.

After a single by Logan Morrison, Michael Saunders golfed a Weaver pitch into the second row beyond right field. Seattle suddenly led 3-0, and had five hits off Weaver before he recorded his fifth out of the game.

Ackley added a solo shot leading off the bottom of the fifth, his 14th homer.

The Mariners improved to 78-22 when scoring at least three runs. They also won a season series against the Angles for the first time since 2003 with their 10th win in 17 games against Los Angeles.bb

Now it’s up to James Paxton (6-4, 3.03 ERA) on Saturday and Felix Hernandez (14-6, 2.34) in Sunday’s regular-season finale to keep the Mariners’ playoff hopes flickering.

They need that – plus losses by Oakland in Texas on Saturday, when it starts Jeff Smardzija (7-12, 2.88), and Sunday when the A’s start Sonny Gray (13-10, 3.21).

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