For the first time in nearly seven years, the Mariners are 10 games over .500. Behind a dominant start from Hisashi Iwakuma and a first-inning home run by Kendrys Morales, Seattle beat the Blue Jays 2-0 Wednesday to complete a three-game sweep and 8-1 homestand.
The teams entered the series in a virtual dead heat, 1.5 games behind the Royals in the chase for the American League’s second wild card. Three days later, Seattle (65-55) finds itself tied with the Tigers, with whom it begins a three-game series Friday, while the Blue Jays are three back.
“It was a great homestand, no question,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “Our guys should be proud of it. But it’s over with now. We’ve got to get ready for the Tigers.”
The shutout continued a sterling pitching run through August. Seattle has not allowed more than three runs in any of the 12 games. Toronto manager John Gibbons watched Seattle hold down one of the better lineups in the AL, sans key cogs Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion, to four runs in three games. It left him equally impressed and dismayed.
“They shut down our offense stone cold,” said Gibbons. “We were able to put some on the board (Tuesday), but it was pretty much a mismatch. Then they get to their bullpen and there’s no letup down there either.”
Iwakuma utilized a dynamite split-finger to hold the Jays in check over 6.2 scoreless innings. He gave up five hits and struck out five while picking up his 11th win of the season and lowering his ERA to 2.72.
“I thought he had an exceptional split tonight,” McClendon said. “(His) fastball velocity was pretty good, he got on hitters . . . I was very pleased with his outing.
Among the more eye-popping feats has been the lack of free passes issued by Iwakuma. The one walk Wednesday increased Iwakuma’s minuscule total to 12 walks over 139 innings. His 0.78 walk rate and 109 to 12 strikeout to walk ratio lead the majors.
His pitching — as well as another 2.1 scoreless innings of relief from the AL’s best bullpen — allowed one early hit to stand as the difference.
Facing knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the Mariners wasted little time attacking his 70 mph dancers. The first inning saw them send seven to the plate, score two runs on three hits, while not recording one “soft” out. The two runs came on Morales’ second homer as a Mariner, also his second in as many nights.
Morales was hitting .161 (9-for-56) in his first 15 games with the Mariners. But after completing a 5-for-12 series with four extra-base hits, Morales heads on the road a more confident hitter.
“The coaches have corrected a few things in my swing,” Morales said through translator Fernando Alcala. “I’m feeling really comfortable and hopefully that (continues) going forward.”
The rest of the offense struggled as Dickey, 39, seemed to find a better feel for his knuckleball, allowing four hits over the next five scoreless frames. They threatened in the fifth, loading the bases with two outs, only to see Kyle Seager ground out to first.
Dickey allowed seven hits and four walks, one intentional, and struck out two.
Toronto had its chances. It had a baserunner in all but two innings against Iwakuma. Two were on in the seventh after Charlie Furbush walked the only batter he faced to produce its best threat.
Again, the bullpen came through. Danny Farquhar struck out Jose Reyes to end the inning. Yoervis Medina and Fernando Rodney pitched to four hitters apiece in relatively easy eighth and ninth innings, with the latter securing his 35th save.
“It’s nice to come back and have a good, successful homestand,” Mike Zunino said. “We’re just looking to build on that and hit full stride come later on.”
OF Michael Saunders and his wife had their second child, a boy. Saunders is expected to return to Class AAA Tacoma Thursday or Friday to resume his rehab assignment . . . The 8-1 homestand tied the second best winning percentage over a seven-plus game homestand in franchise history (.889), falling shy of an 11-1 homestand in 2001 . . . Logan Morrison failed to produce a hit Wednesday, ending his 13-game hitting streak . . . The shutout was the Mariners’ eighth of the season.