TORONTO — Here were the Seattle Mariners’ 2015 highlights on display in one tight package Friday night in a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
Exhibit A: Felix Hernandez worked seven dominant innings and became the first pitcher this season to win seven games.
Exhibit B: Nelson Cruz hit his 17th homer, which leads the majors, and added a double in four at-bats, which hiked his American League-leading average to .354.
There was more, of course, just as there has been more to the Mariners’ season. And most of it, on this night, was positive.
Carson Smith had a shutdown inning after relieving Hernandez and continues to grow into his role as the club’s primary setup reliever.
Shortstop Chris Taylor made a scintillating play from deep in the hole in showing why the Mariners are willing to live, at least for now, with his .136 batting average.
“Great play,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Really, I thought it was a base-hit all the way. I was just shocked that he made that play. Outstanding.”
The Mariners also caught a big break when Toronto right fielder Chris Colabello chose to try for a diving catch on Logan Morrison’s sinking two-out liner (VIDEO LINK) in the fourth inning.
The ball skipped past Colabello for a two-run triple.
And here was Fernando Rodney nearly giving it all away by serving up a two-run homer to Colabello in the ninth before closed out the victory for his 11th save in 12 chances.
Everyone should be used to Rodney’s high-wire act, but Cruz admitted he was nervous in the ninth.
“Yes!” he laughed. “The good thing is we won.”
Yes, although it took a overturned call on a tag play at first base for the second out in the ninth. Replays confirmed Morrison nicked Kevin Pillar on the foot, which kept the tying run from reaching base.
Mostly, though, this night spotlighted Hernandez (7-1) and Cruz, which means it was the Mariners, now 19-22, at their best.
Toronto starter Marco Estrada (1-3) gave up just six hits in seven innings, but the Mariners turned them into four runs. That was plenty for Hernandez…and just enough for Rodney.
The Blue Jays nicked Hernandez for a first-inning run when Edwin Encarnacion lofted a two-out homer into the Toronto bullpen beyond the left-field wall.
“Every time I come here,” Hernandez said, “he hits a homer against me. It was a slider that stayed right in the middle of the plate.”
It might seem that way, but Encarnacion has only two homers against Hernandez in 23 career at-bats. But he’s been hot. This was Encarnacion’s seventh homer of the month and 11th of the season
The was it, though. The King allowed nothing more in working through the seventh inning and lowering his ERA to 2.19.
This was also a bit of validation for Hernandez, who suffered through a rare flop in his previous outing at the Rogers Centre. That was last year in the final week of the season, when he allowed eight runs in 4 2/3 innings.
That loss punched a hole in the Mariners’ postseason chances and, fair or not, likely prevented Hernandez from winning the Cy Young Award.
“Actually, I was not thinking about anything that happened last year,” Hernandez insisted. “I was just trying to go out there, do my job and help the team win.”
His teammates, privately, suggested otherwise. Either way, even Hernandez agreed he was in top form in bouncing back from a loss to Boston in his last start.
“A little more command with my fastball,” he said. “A good breaking ball. That was way better.”
Cruz opened the second inning by shooting a double past first, and Kyle Seager followed with a walk. It came to nothing, which seemed a bad omen. Wasted opportunities remain one of the Mariners’ biggest ongoing problems.
But they mounted a two-out threat in the fourth when Seager reached on a squib single to third that took a weird spin on the turf. Estrada then walked Welington Castillo on four pitches.
This time, the Mariners cashed in…with an assist.
Morrison drove a sinking liner to right that got past Colabello for a two-run triple. Zunino followed with a grounder past third that turned into a double when a fan reached over the wall for the ball.
Cruz extended the lead to 4-1 by leading off the sixth with a 416-foot line drive that easily cleared the center-field wall. It was his 17th of the year, which enabled him to regain the major-league lead.
Washington outfielder Bryce Harper hit his 16th earlier on Friday.
“I was surprised,” Cruz said, “but the ball carries pretty well here. But, yeah, I was surprised it went out. It was a low line drive.”
That was the winning run.