BY Art Thiel 11:17PM 07/11/2014

Thiel: Old-time feel as Felix-led Mariners top A’s

Down 2-0, Mariners steadily crawl back for 3-2 win to help give Hernandez another milestone and A’s manager an ejection after the game’s final pitch.

Fernando Rodney fires his imaginary arrow after getting a huge break to beat the Oakland A’s Friday night at Safeco Field. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Mariners fans at Safeco Field made a discovery Friday night. They still have hair on the backs of their necks. Been years since the follicles had reason to stand up.

But there they were, saluting an uproarious game that dripped drama, controversy and felt like Mariners games half a generation ago. It was something more than a warm summer night at the park. And hey, the Mariners won.

“That,” said a beaming Felix Hernandez, “was a big one.”

Hernandez dug himself out of a first-inning hole, the offense dug itself out of a week-long hole and closer Fernando Rodney dug himself out of a 3-0 hole against the formidable Yoenis Cespedes, and the Mariners climbed over the current kings of baseball, the Oakland A’s, 3-2.

The matchup between Hernandez and new A’s ace Jeff Samardzija not only lived up to expectations, the game kept going even after it was over.

Rodney took over in the ninth and had another harrowing inning. With a runner on second and one out, he fell behind 3-0 to pinch-hitter Cespedes, who has hit 14 of his 63 homers against Seattle. But after getting back to 3-2, Rodney coaxed Cespedes to fly out to right, advancing the runner as No. 8 hitter Nick Punto stepped to the plate.

When Rodney’s final pitch to Punto was above the strike zone, but nevertheless called strike three, Punto exploded, ripping off his batting helmet and confronting umpire James Hoye.

Before A’s manager Bob Melvin could reach his animated second baseman, Punto was ejected, followed quickly by Melvin, who maintained his fury for a good 30 seconds — “That was bullshit!” Melvin screamed — as the crowd of 32,971 roared and the Mariners hustled off the field before anything changed.

After the game, Melvin, who skippered the Mariners the last time they were good, shrugged in exasperation.

“Just look at it,” he said of the final pitch. “Tough way to end the game.”

A bit more colorful was the post-game description from Natalie Punto, who presumably was watching from home as her hubby completed an 0-for-4 night with his third strikeout, only it wasn’t a strikeout. Her tweet:

Well, then . . .a new metric for the strike zone has been established.

Away from the steamy A’s and their steamier wives, the Mariners were in a more celebratory mood, ending a slide of five losses in seven games by piling up three runs in a game for the first time in a week. They also reached a bit of a rare seasonal milestone — 50 wins before the All-Star break, a feat done only five times in club history and not since the Melvin team of 2003 (58).

Manager Lloyd McClendon made sure to bring up the achievement post-game, by way of saying that he congratulated GM Jack Zduriencik, The Custodian of the Perpetual Franchise Hot Seat.

Results lately have swung from excitement to despair and, apparently, back again. McClendon is gamely trying to walk a middle line to avoid the emotional whipsaws he dreads, especially for the weekend against the A’s.

“It was a good win,” he said, then seemed to catch himself. “Any win is a good win.”

As the season goes, it was undeniably big, so much so that McClendon pushed back Hernandez’s turn a day to go against the division leaders, who won seven of their previous eight to reach 58-34, matching the best mark after 92 games in club history.

The move probably cost the Mariners Thursday’s game against the Twins, but that didn’t matter after Hernandez overcame a three-hit, two-run first inning, including a second-batter home run from RF Stephen Vogt.

“Change-up,” Hernandez said. “Not good.”

After that, he was mostly nails, allowing the A’s six hits and two walks while striking out nine, delighting the largest King’s Court delegation in the yellow-clad event’s raucous  history. It was the 11th consecutive outing in which Hernandez allowed two or fewer runs in at least seven innings, matching the longest such streak in the American League since Gaylord Perry in 1974.

The Mariners pulled one back in the second on Logan Morrison’s solo homer to right — he was the DH after Justin Smoak was recalled from Tacoma to take over first base — then tied the game in the third when Endy Chavez’s sacrifice fly brought home Brad Miller, who opened the inning with a double.

The decider came in the sixth when rookie James Jones had a one-out double, then came home on a soft, opposite-field double by Robinson Cano.

It was a rare hit with a runner in scoring position, so sadly lacking in the previous swoon.

“We had a lot of hits lately, but they didn’t find holes,” McClendon said. “It was about time one fell in.”

No one in a Seattle uniform was arguing about getting s little lucky too.

 


YourThoughts

  • the duk

    I am yr after yr, summer slog after slog, ultimately and tragically disturbed by TWO THINGS with duh Merry nerds. ONE: why do our managers CONSTANTLY change the lineup when things are going well??? Do all teams do this now? When I was a Lil duk in St. Louis, the cards rolled out a steady lineup. TWO: why must we endure the 4 year failure of Smo a k,, Ackley,,, Saunders,,, et AL. ??? My heart aches to see their failure, and also the damage they do to Mariner record because they can’t hit. How many years are young players allowed to continue flailing and failing?

    • art thiel

      Your little duk years obviously were long ago. All teams change lineups constantly and involve more backups as a way to keep the big-money guys fresher. And you may have noticed that the postseason is nearly as long as the NBA’s now. Also there’s much more data available to inform managers about favorable matchups.

      As far as hanging with young guys, everyone matures at different rates. Remember, Edgar Martinez couldn’t hold down a regular MLB job until he was 27.

      • Trygvesture

        27. Because screwall ownership was in love with Presley, not because he couldn’t hit, as I recall. He owned triple A for years, and I seem to recall there were rumors of some ethnic bias in the decision making. Just sayin.

  • jafabian

    I thought Rodney’s last pitch was too high but replays showed it was within the strike zone. I understand the A’s arguing but looks like it was a good call by the umpire.

    The club needs to win this series to make up for the poor showing against the Twins. They can get back in the playoff race if they do so this weekend could tell the tale of where this club is going.

    • art thiel

      They already hold the fifth and last playoff spot. And did so despite the Twins series. The A’s series is not about the last series or the next series. It’s about the Mariners proving to themselves that they can hang with these guys.

      • Trygvesture

        Won’t it just be terrific when MLB adds even more wild cards and the Cubs and Astros will be playoff bound before the break, too? The pennant races lose their magic when the mediocre-to-bad have an entrée. Kinda makes it a T-ball type deal.

        • RadioGuy

          Or like the NBA and NHL.

          • jafabian

            All should adopt a World Cup system based on points then.

        • art thiel

          Even under the previous system, modest records have made it — and won. Great records have made it and lost (2001 M’s). No system is perfect.

          Wait until they expand NCAA playoffs to 320 teams.

  • 1coolguy

    It was a ball – even the 2 post game announcers on Root agreed the M’s got away with one.
    Cano’s RBI hit was a double.
    Rodney threw 26 pitches in the 9th, incl a walk and a runner on third. This guy sure knows how to add excitement to a game! 234 pitches for a 9 inning game! He’s going to cause a few heart attacks by the end of the season. As a fan I hope his luck holds on.

    • art thiel

      In case you missed it, Rodney was causing a lot of cardio problems in April and May. He regained command of his fastball in the last six weeks, but Friday was a regression. Getting out Cespedes was one of the most dramatic moments of the season.

      • Trygvesture

        it was! The potential in Cepedes’ bat– when he connects as he can it’s almost scary, always jaw dropping– made breathing shallow, eyes widened, palms sweaty, no matter what hat one was wearing. The pure good stuff of the Game.

      • Long-Time Mariners Fan

        “Dramatic.” Agreed. That’s Rodney’s middle name. I was listening to Rizzs on the radio and you could feel him pushing his voice to those limits that Dave found in the playoffs.

        Can you imagine the razzing that Punto is going to get around the league? Any pitch up in the zone: “Nah, your wife wouldn’t be able to see that one – Steeeee-rike!”

        Good column, Arthur. You’re coming into fine mid-season form and it’s good to know you’ll be there all the way to…. dare we say… October.

  • Charlie Norwood

    Pitch fx has strike 3 in the zone. There’s some discrepancy with punto’s zone throughout the game but it was far from a ball and really could have gone either way. Punto just does that silly crouch and arm raise thing that makes it look egregious. Rod threw a good pitch, ump made a good call. M’s win.

    • art thiel

      I didn’t get a chance to see replays — too much going on. It appeared to be a ball in real time, but I’ll accept Pitch fx. But I still like better the strike zone of Punto’s wife.

  • Trygvesture

    “… Melvin, who skippered the Mariners the last time they were good, …”.

    “Well, then . . .a new metric for the strike zone has been established.”

    Delightful grin-getting comments– both adding to the pure fun of the game.

    But then the tapeworm of corporate obescience required in Lincolnland snakes out of McCL’s mouth– sounding well prepared–

    “I congratulate my general manager about that. I think that’s a tremendous accomplishment and a lot fo credit goes to him.”
    Blech– so without context and such an obvious attempt at fan appeasement on behalf of the Lincolnland edifice– fawning on yeZman after Felix’s grand game? How about skipping the script –just once– and sticking with the first real joy our own Mudville has experienced in a very long time? Lincolnlanders just don’t get to put the Game first, ever.

    It was a great, great game to enjoy. In spite of the gm.

    • art thiel

      To an extent, every manager has to play that suck-up game. After all, LMC was hired by Z. But I included it because it was worth knowing,

      But you’re right to enjoy the enjoyment. Try not to let past misdeeds spoil too much of the fun.

  • Downinhervalley

    M’s suck they won’t make the playoffs. You won’t see them make it for at least 5 more years. Cano is a piece of crap. Where’s the HR’s now Cano? Can’t hit any outside of Yankee stadium. Guess the needle fell out your ass.

    • art thiel

      I see why you call yourself Down.