Pitching in a September game that meant something for the first time in his career, Felix Hernandez, backed by consecutive home runs in the seventh inning, pinned a 2-1 defeat on the Oakland Athletics Tuesday at O.Com Coliseum. Returning to form after three sub-par outings, not only did Hernandez win for the first time since Aug. 11 vs. Toronto, the victory was his first in the month of September since 2011 (Sept. 6).
Winning for the ninth time in 16 games against the Athletics, the Mariners (75-63) took the series 2-1 and moved to a game behind the Detroit Tigers (76-62) for the American League’s second wild card spot. The Mariners, also within 3½ games of the Athletics (79-60), play their next series against the two worst teams in the AL West, Texas and Houston.
Hernandez, 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA in his last three, sailed through three innings before allowing a solo home run to Adam Dunn in the fourth. It was not a bad pitch, but Dunn turned on the inside offering and nearly knocked it into the second deck in right field. It stayed 1-0 until the seventh, when Kyle Seager and Corey Hart suddenly mashed back-to-back home runs off Tacoma native Jon Lester.
Hernandez (14-5, 2.18) blew through the Athletics over the next two innings and gave way to Fernando Rodney in the ninth, who had a 1-2-3 inning for his 41st save in 44 chances.
Hernandez allowed three hits, struck out four, walked two and lowered his ERA from 2.28 to 2.18. Sixty-three of his 102 pitches went for strikes. He improved to 19-7 lifetime against the Athletics, his most victories against any team, including 4-0 this season.
“Felix was just outstanding,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “He pitched one helluva game, and so did (Jon) Lester.”
Lester allowed two earned runs on seven hits over eight innings. Lester threw a 3-and-2 fastball to Seager that rose up in the middle of the plate and Seager banged it for his 22nd homer, tying his career high. Hart followed with his first homer run since May.
“Corey’s got a track record. He’s an all-star player. He’s battled through injuries but he’s come back pretty good, and he has a chance to be big for us down the stretch,” said McClendon.
“Lester is an aggressive guy around the zone,” said Hart. “I was also trying to be aggressive and put a good swing on the ball and get it in the air. Lester is a bulldog and we were just able to get him there. I’m happy to get a big hit.”
“We beat a real good pitcher today,” said McClendon. “We’re in the part of the season where we’ve got to beat big pitchers, and we got it done. It was one helluva game. As I’ve said before, all these games are big, they are all important, and none was bigger than today.”
They handed Oakland its first back-to-back home losses since May 7.
“I think we match up well with them,” said McClendon.
Rodney, who turned his 40th save Tuesday night into high drama, had no problem collecting his 41st. He retired Josh Reddick on a fly ball to Chris Denorfia in left, got Josh Donaldson to ground out to Robinson Cano for the second and fanned Dunn for the third.
Rodney is now four saves away from matching Kazuhiro Sasaki’s single-season franchise record of 45 saves, set in 2001.
After 15 games, the combined score between the teams is Seattle 52, Oakland 51 . . . The back-t0-back homers by Seager and Hart were the first for the Mariners since Seager and Dustin Ackley hit consecutive bombs in the fourth inning against Kansas City May 11 . . . Mike Zunino’s seventh-inning single broke an 0-for-16 slide . . . Starter Chris Young threw a bullpen session Wednesday in order to give McClendon more information about whether Young should make his next start Saturday in Texas. McClendon is worried that Young is not fully healthy after Young lasted just two-thirds of an inning in a 6-1 loss to the Athletics Monday. McClendon will make a decision Thursday.
The Mariners head to Texas for a four-game series beginning Thursday at 5:05 p.m. LHP Roenis Elias (9-12, 3.97) will pitch for Seattle opposite RHP Scott Baker (3-3, 5.23). The Mariners return to Safeco Field Monday to begin a three-game series with the Astros.