Day one in what Mariners manager Scott Servais characterized as "the critical point in our season" couldn’t have gone much worse.
The Mariners rolled over weakly against one of their former farmhands, Oakland right-hander Paul Blackburn, before stirring late in a 7-4 loss Thursday night at Safeco Field.
"We’ve got to start playing better baseball," Servais said. "A tough start tonight to the game. A tough start (Wednesday) night to the game (in a loss to Kansas City).
"We’ve got to pick it up. Everybody. Players, coaches, myself. We’ve got to get it going in the right direction."
This makes nine losses in 11 games overall and eight in a row at home. The Mariners are 41-46 with three games remaining against Oakland prior to the All-Star break.
"We need to get these last three," said right fielder Mitch Haniger, who broke out of an 0-for-15 slump with a double and a homer.
"I’ll take our lineup and our staff over their guys. They’re a good team, but I like out guys on paper. We’ve just got to put up the numbers and be better than them."
Rookie Sam Gaviglio (3-4) is no longer overdue for a clunker after giving up a career-worst seven runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. He had not allowed more than three earned runs in seven of his previous nine starts.
"I was up in the zone early," he said, "and I was getting into bad counts."
Blackburn (1-0) held the Mariners to one run and eight hits over 7 2/3 innings in his second career start, and he did it without striking out a single batter.
"Your first start is kind of an out-of-body experience," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "Your second start is about performing — and against the team he was with, got traded from, he gets to pitch against them.
"He throws the ball where he wants to and mixes his pitches. There’s something to be said about that. It’s not always about velocity."
The Mariners acquired Blackburn in a trade last July from the Chicago Cubs and sent him to Oakland on Nov. 12 for in a deal for first baseman Danny Valencia.
It was Valencia’s three-run homer in the ninth against Daniel Coulombe that made the game seem closer than it was for much of the night. Santiago Casilla got the final two outs.
For the Mariners, this was ugly from the start and particularly disappointing in coming one night after Servais pointedly cited a need for his club to play better as it headed toward the break.
Oakland jumped Gaviglio for three runs in the first inning.
Matt Joyce led off with a bloop single before Marcus Semien walked. Yonder Alonso’s double scored one run, and Jed Lowrie’s one-out double made it 3-0 before Gaviglio steadied.
The Mariners helped out Blackburn find a comfort zone by grounding into double plays in the first two innings before stumbling through their latest in a growing series of baserunning blunders.
Haniger started the third inning with a double but, inexplicably, tried for third base on Jarrod Dyson’s fly to center — and was thrown out easily by Jaycob Brugman for a double play.
Jean Segura started the Mariners’ fourth with a single but got picked off.
Gaviglio pulled it back together after the first inning…until the fifth, when Semien singled, Alonso walked and Khris Davis floated a drive to right field that had sufficient carry to clear the wall for a three-run homer.
Oakland led 6-0 and wasn’t done. Bruce Maxwell went oppo on a two-out drive for his first homer of the season. That finished Gaviglio, whose ERA spiked from 3.48 to 4.31.
Haniger’s two-out homer in the fifth inning got the Mariners on the board and trimmed the Athletics’ lead to 7-1. That’s how it stayed until Valencia’s homer in the ninth.
PLAY OF THE GAME: A technical ruling occurred in the fourth inning after Maxwell led off with a liner to left. A fan reached for the ball as it caromed back into fair territory.
Maxwell stopped at first for a single. The Athletics challenged, alleging fan interference. The umpires reviewed the play and overturned their call, saying the fan did touch the ball.
But a fan-interference call permits the umpires to rule where the runner(s) should be placed. They ruled that Maxwell should remain at first base. So Oakland won the challenge but gained nothing from it.
PLUS: It was a gorgeous night at Safeco Field…Segura had four hits in four at-bats and raised his average to .354, but he remains nine plate appearances shy of qualifying for the league lead…Yovani Gallardo pitched four scoreless innings. He has allowed just one tainted run over 10 innings in three outings since losing his job in the rotation.
MINUS: The Mariners hit into double plays in the first three innings. Two conventional grounders with a runner on first, and Haniger’s ill-conceived dash for third on a fly to center. Then Segura got picked off in the fourth after a leadoff single…Ben Gamel was hitless in four at-bats, which dropped his average to .329. He no longer leads the league in batting.
STAT PACK: Melvin got his 500th managerial victory with Oakland. He needs seven more to reach 1,000 in his career, which include 156 while managing the Mariners in 2003-04.
QUOTABLE: "We are giving a lot of free outs away on the bases," Servais said. "We’re kind of doing it to ourselves. We’re better than this. We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to get after it. It starts (Friday)."
SHORT HOPS: The Athletics activated Semien from the disabled list prior to the game. He missed nearly three months while recovering from surgery on his right wrist. Oakland cleared space for Semien by placing right-hander Jharel Cotton on the disabled list because of a thumb blister. Cotton had been scheduled to start Saturday against the Mariners. Right-hander Chris Smith is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Nashville to replace Cotton.
ON DECK: The Mariners and Athletics continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Safeco Field. Left-hander James Paxton (6-3 with a 3.27 ERA) will oppose Oakland left-hander Sean Manaea (7-4, 3.75).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners