Since sweeping the Astros July 2, a tired refrain of lackluster hitting and one-run losses has plagued the Mariners. As recently as Sunday, a gem by Hisashi Iwakuma was wasted in a 1-0 loss to the Orioles.
A spark was needed. In a 4-2 victory over the Braves Tuesday at Safeco, the Mariners may have gotten one, in an unlikely way.
Tied 1-1 in the fourth, Atlanta (58-55) pitcher Alex Wood was one out away from escaping a jam. Chris Taylor hit a pop-up into shallow right field. Second baseman Tommy La Stella and right fielder Jason Heyward converged as the ball descended, La Stella calling off Heyward as he crept toward the foul line.
The ball fell into La Stella’s glove, then fell out.
Chris Denorfia and Logan Morrison scored from third and second, giving Seattle — and Felix Hernandez — a 3-1 lead. Austin Jackson drove home Taylor in the ensuing at-bat and Hernandez had all the support he needed.
“I think that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Kyle Seager said. “When you get an opportunity, you take advantage.”
This time, Seattle (58-54) did.
Hernandez (12-3, 1.97 ERA) pitched brilliantly again. In his 15th consecutive outing of seven-plus innings while allowing two or fewer runs, Hernandez went eight innings and allowed one run on four hits and a walk. He struck out eight on 97 pitches, throwing 73 for strikes.
He closed the eighth inning after getting a fabulous diving stop by Taylor at short to rob Emilio Bonifacio of a base hit. Taylor laid out to his right, gloved the sharp grounder, leapt up and threw out the speedy Bonifacio by half a step. The play capped a run of 16 of 17 batters retired by Hernandez, and elicited a congratulatory exclamation by the pitcher.
The play almost felt expected with the way Hernandez was rolling. Taylor said making such a play is easier when a pitcher is attacking hitters and making quick work of the opponents.
“That’s what’s great about playing behind guys like Felix that work really fast. We’re always expecting the ball, always ready to make a play,” Taylor said. “It felt great.”
Atlanta, which lost its seventh in a row, in front of 24,496 at Safeco Field in the opener of a two-game series, took a 1-0 lead in the second. Chris Johnson delivered a two-out single to drive in Justin Upton, who doubled.
The Braves came into the game hitting .169 with runners in scoring position over the first six games of an eight-game road trip.
After Seattle squandered a similar situation in the third inning (leadoff double by Taylor), Seager kick-started the fourth by reaching base with one out when he was hit in the back by a pitch.
Denorfia followed with his first hit as a Mariner, a single up the middle. Morrison capitalized with a single through the left side to score Seager as a charging Upton airmailed the throw home. The RBI was Morrison’s fourth over 14 games since the All-Star break, and snapped a 12-inning scoreless string for Seattle.
Wood (7-9, 3.20 ERA) exited after six innings. The left-hander allowed four runs, one earned, on five hits and four walks.
Hernandez concluded eight relatively easy innings shy of 100 pitches. A complete game was possible for a pitcher who hasn’t had one since August 2012. Manager Lloyd McClendon showed little care for the complete game, turning instead to closer Fernando Rodney in the ninth.
Rodney allowed one run on two hits before picking up his 31st save. Afterward, McClendon said he would rather see Hernandez pitch strong in September than finish a game in August.
“My objective is to try get this team as far as I can, and hopefully that’s the playoffs,” McClendon said. ”We have our eyes set on it. I don’t know if we can get there or not, but I want Felix healthy, strong and moving forward in September pitching meaningful games.”
Hernandez has been known to fight to stay in games. Since McClendon arrived, Hernandez and his manager seem to have developed an understanding of when enough is enough.
“Those are personal talks,” McClendon said of the discussions he and Hernandez had over his sometimes early hooks. ”But listen: I’m like Frank Sinatra — I’m going to do it my way.”
OF Michael Saunders participated in pre-game workouts Tuesday. McClendon said he would evaluate his status afterward. His hope is for Saunders to begin a minor-league rehab assignment Thursday . . . Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to seven games. He is hitting .346 since July 29 when the streak began . . . In seven starts to begin his career, Taylor is hitting .385 with four doubles and two RBI . . . Seattle improved to 6-4 in interleague games this season after beginning 0-3.