The Mariners scored five runs in the first inning and rode Wade LeBlanc's seven shutout innings to begin their pivotal four-game series in Oakland with a 7-1 win over the A's.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Given how they’d performed over the past few days — particularly at the plate and with runners in scoring positions — this was unforeseen.
And how they accumulated some of those runs — showing patience at the plate with runners in scoring position and a careless mistake by the best-fielding third baseman in the American League — was even less expected.
Perhaps there was an added urgency, knowing the past two days of lethargy in San Diego might’ve leveled irreparable damage to their postseason hopes and dreams.
And of course, they were facing the team directly ahead of them in the chase for that playoff spot. Though you wouldn’t know it by the generously listed crowd of 10,844 not filling Oakland Coliseum.
But the version of the Mariners that manager Scott Servais wishes he would see more often returned Thursday night and picked up a big 7-1 win over the Athletics.
“It was to put that two-day stint in San Diego behind us,” Servais said. “It was a good ballgame and a good way to start the series.”
Seattle scored five runs in the first — all with two outs — and added a couple of insurance runs and was never really threatened by the Athletics, thanks to a solid start from Wade LeBlanc, who delivered seven shutout innings.
But will this version of the Mariners return for the remaining three games of the series?
“Everyone understands what’s at stake,” said Ryon Healy. “There’s no denying where we are at and what this series means. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to walk in here tight or tense, worrying about those things instead of focusing on what we did today to win.”
But more than one win in this four-game series is needed with the number of games in the season down to 28. Seattle trimmed Oakland’s lead in the second wild card to 4 1/2 games.
“Nobody’s going to lie and say they aren’t aware of the fact that Oakland is ahead of us in the wild-card race,” LeBlanc said. “You want to go out and beat these guys. But you want to beat everybody.”
The five runs in the first inning came against starter Frankie Montas, who was making the start in place of the A’s most talented pitcher, Sean Manaea. But it probably should have been only two runs.
With runners on first and third with one out, Nelson Cruz hit a rocket one-hopper up the middle that seemed destined to be a single. Instead, Montas made a leaping grab of the ball without even really looking the ball into his glove. It stunned Mitch Haniger, who was the runner at third, leaving him caught in a run down for the second out. Another out and the Mariners come away with nothing. Based on recent Mariners at-bats, it was more than a possibility.
“It wasn’t a great feeling,” Servais said of the play. “I’ll admit that. But guys kept grinding. It was good to see.”
Kyle Seager worked a walk to load the bases and Healy followed with a single to left against his former team to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead. Healy wasn’t in the original starting lineup Thursday, but was added when Jean Segura pulled himself out of the lineup because of a bruised shin according to Servais.
“Big, big hit,” Servais said. “He was ready to play. He likes playing here. Obviously, he’s used to playing here and against his old buddies.”
Of all the players affected by the return of Robinson Cano, Healy has surrendered the most playing time and at-bats. And while he’s trying to adjust to not playing every day and adjust his routine, his attitude hasn’t soured with the situation.
“At this point, our focus is on the bigger picture,” Healy said. “For me, it would be really selfish for me to worry about what I need. We are focused on the team and winning. I’m understanding what it takes to be prepared every day, whether I’m in the starting lineup or not, and still find a way to help the team win a game.”
Ben Gamel pushed the lead to 2-0, working a bases-loaded walk after falling behind 1-2 in the count.
Two walks with the bases loaded isn’t something typical for the Mariners’ swing-first, swing-often collective.
“Really good at-bats,” Servais said. “The walks were so big. Really good to see. We haven’t done a lot of that. We’ve had guys up there maybe trying to do too much, trying to get the big hit instead of letting the game come to them.”
The crushing play of the inning came on Mike Zunino’s routine ground ball to third base. Matt Chapman, the favorite to win the American League Gold Glove at the position, fielded the ball cleanly and took his time to throw to first, knowing Zunino has catcher’s speed.
But his throw came out low and short-hopped in the dirt. First baseman Matt Olson couldn’t catch it or even knock it down. The ball rolled into the ample foul territory, allowing two runs to score.
Instead of being out of the inning and only up 2-0, the Mariners had a 4-0 lead that went to 5-0 on Dee Gordon’s infield single that Chapman also had trouble handling.
Two missed plays by one of the best defensive players in baseball had given Seattle three free runs.
“He’s a Gold Glove third baseman, hands down,” Healy said. “But we benefited from that.”
LeBlanc made sure that those gifts were put to good use. He allowed three hits in his seven innings, with three walks and four strikeouts.
“I wasn’t as sharp as the last game and I wasn’t as crisp as last game,” he said. “But when you’ve got a guy like Z (Mike Zunino) back there and you’ve got an offense like that putting up runs, it makes it easy to go out there and be aggressive and miss over the plate instead of being overly careful.”
The Mariners added another run in the second inning. Denard Span tripled off the wall in deep right-center and Robinson Cano shot a single through the drawn-in infield to make it 6-0.
Mitch Haniger made it 7-0 in the fourth inning, whacking a solo homer to left. It was his 23rd homer of the season.
“The seven runs makes it easy for you to go out and do what you do,” LeBlanc said.
Adam Warren allowed a run in relief, while Nick Vincent pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to end the game.