Here we are, in the season’s final month, and finally the Seattle Mariners are on a roll. Their 3-2 victory on Sunday at the O.co Coliseum completed a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics.
It also stretched their winning streak to a season-best five games and, if you still want to believe, pulled them six games behind Texas in the American League wild-card chase.
“There are a lot of players in here who have a lot of talent,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “We didn’t play as well as we’d like to in the beginning, but the confidence in each other never wavered.”
More than that, though, Sunday’s victory showed how serendipity shines brightest when things are going well. The Mariners scored all three of their runs after trying to run themselves out of the fifth inning.
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“Listen, we probably should have lost the ballgame today,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I’ll leave it at that. I’m a little emotional right now, and I don’t like to comment when I’m emotional.”
What’s different, at the moment, is they didn’t lose it.
The Mariners held on behind Hisashi Iwakuma and a still-suspect bullpen that got another boost from recharged closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who escaped an inherited jam in the eighth and one of his own making in the ninth.
“Tom was as gutsy as I’ve seen him in the two years that I’ve been here,” McClendon said. “That was not an easy save from a guy who needs rest desperately. He did a tremendous job for us.”
Wilhelmsen pitched for the fourth time in five games and is 8 for 8 in save opportunities since reclaiming the job.
“My body feels great,” he said. “My mind feels better. I enjoy the workload. My body seems to respond better that way as opposed to not throwing for five days or so and then throwing three days in a row.”
Even so, this one didn’t come easily.
The Mariners led, 3-1, when Mark Canha started the Oakland eighth with a single through the left side against Logan Kensing, who then put the tying run on base by walking Carson Blair after being ahead 1-2 in the count.
A wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position, which enabled Canha to score on Danny Valencia’s grounder to short. Blair moved to second.
That was it for Kensing. The Mariners summoned Wilhelmsen, who retired the next two hitters with the tying run on second.
Wilhelmsen got two quick outs in the ninth before singles by Marcus Semien and Billy Burns put the tying and winning runs on base. That got the game to Canha, who was 5 for 11 in the series.
Canha hit a line drive to deep left that Seth Smith gathered in for the out.
“It was hit well,” Wilhelmsen said, “but, luckily, we’ve got guys out there to reel that stuff in. When I saw Seth Smith come up with it, I was very relieved.”
Iwakuma (7-3) carried a three-hit shutout into the seventh inning before the Athletics broke through on Billy Butler’s one-out homer.
Oakland then went to its bench and got a pinch single from Coco Crisp. When Josh Reddick batted for catcher Josh Phegley, the Mariners replaced Iwakuma with Vidal Nuno for a left-on-left matchup.
The change didn’t matter. Reddick lined a single to center that moved Crisp to third.
When Oakland sent up a third consecutive pinch-hitter in Semien, the Mariners countered again by bringing in Tony Zych. Semien chased a full-count slider for a strikeout.
Zych ended the inning when center fielder Shawn O’Malley ran down Burns’ soft looper just beyond the infield.
“I knew it was a lot of ground to cover,” O’Malley said. “It was one of those plays where you just focus on the ball, keep running and hope that you get there.”
It was first of three consecutive escapes by the Mariners’ bullpen over the closing innings.
Now about that three-run fifth against Oakland lefty Sean Nolin, who drew the start just two days after being recalled from Triple-A Nashville.
The game was scoreless when Logan Morrison led off with a single to right and tried to go to third on Brad Miller’s grounder through the right side. Morrison should have made it easily.
But Morrison eased into the base standing up when Chris Woodward, who normally coaches first base, didn’t signal for a slide. Valencia took the throw from Jake Smolinski and applied the tag.
“Valencia did a good job of dekeing me,” Morrison admitted. “I didn’t know the ball was coming. I should have slid.”
Woodward was coaching third because Rich Donnelly was battling an upset stomach.
“I wish I could have gone with him,” McClendon said. “My stomach was upset, too.”
All that mattered was, instead of first and third with no outs, the Mariners had a runner at first with one out. And how have those types of breakdowns turned out for most of the season?
Not this time — thanks to Nolin, who loaded the bases by walking the next two hitters, Jesus Sucre and O’Malley. Next came a little luck when Ketel Marte found grass on a duck snort into short right that scored Miller.
Seager followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center for a 2-0 lead, and the Mariners got still another break — and another run — when Nolin (0-1) bounced a wild pitch past Phegley.
Three runs. After a mistake. And it was enough.
Serendipity can be wonderful.
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