The enigma that is Fernando Rodney further aggravated Mariners fans in an exhilarating, playoff-like environment at Safeco Field Saturday. One night after picking up his club-record-tying 45th save, Rodney handed the Athletics a much-needed win, 3-2, with four free passes in the 10th inning.
With the majority of a sold-out crowd of 43,913 still in their seats in a 2-2 game, Rodney went ahead of leadoff hitter Coco Crisp 0-2, only to nibble off the plate and eventually walk him. A sacrifice bunt moving Crisp up by Sam Fuld proved unnecessary. The Mariners intentionally walked Josh Donaldson, who homered earlier, then watched Rodney walk pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to load the bases.
Rodney struck out Brandon Moss on a 3-2 changeup for the second out, only to walk Jed Lowrie on four pitches to force in what became the winning run.
After the Mariners were retired in order by Oakland closer Sean Doolittle, Rodney took his sixth loss and Seattle (80-67) fell a game behind the Royals in the race for the American League’s second wild card. Kansas City and Detroit each won.
“You hate to lose a game that way,” Mike Zunino said.
Seattle squandered a golden opportunity to leapfrog the A’s in the wild card race. McClendon chose to stick with Rodney despite his command problems and having Yoervis Medina warming in the pen. McClendon showed again that he will stick with his closer for better or for worse.
“What you have to understand is you stick with your closer, but you don’t want him to throw too many pitches,” McClendon said. “Once he’s given up the lead, you’ve got to get him out of there. That’s why Medina was up.”
A Robinson Cano homer off Oakland (82-66) starter Sonny Gray to lead off the seventh tied the score at 2-2 and took Felix Hernandez off the hook for a loss in his 300th career start.
The Athletics took an aggressive approach against Hernandez in their sixth matchup with the Mariners ace this season. The A’s had to try something different against a pitcher who has owned them for the better part of his 10-year career, not just 2014. His ’14 numbers were no less dazzling: A 4-0 record and 2.15 ERA over 37.2 innings in five starts.
“I thought he threw the ball extremely well. He made one mistake to Donaldson, the changeup stayed up a little bit (and) ran back (over the middle),” said Zunino. “They were a little more aggressive than usual, but when you face a team so many times you kinda have to pick your poison. I thought he did a great job of keeping them off balance.”
A James Jones triple off Gray opened the third inning and spotted Hernandez and the Mariners a 1-0 lead. With Oakland playing its infield in, Chris Taylor hit a single up the middle to score Jones.
After five relatively easy innings for The King, Oakland fought its way back. With one out in the sixth inning, Donaldson drove a 1-0 Hernandez offering into Edgar’s Cantina beyond the left-field fence for his 27th home run to tie.
In the seventh, Josh Reddick hit a double into the left-center field gap and scored on Eric Sogard’s two-out RBI single. The 2-1 lead was Oakland’s second of the series with runners in scoring position, improving to 2-for-16.
Gray (13-8, 3.18 ERA) started the season 12-4, but since August, the rookie has followed the path of his team, fading to 1-5 over his last eight starts entering Saturday. The 24-year-old looked sharp for much of the night while holding Seattle to two runs on five hits over eight innings. Gray struck out seven and walked one.
“(Gray) struggled a little bit early on, (but) he settled down. That’s why he’s so good,” McClendon said.
After Cano’s homer, McClendon opted to turn to his bullpen rather than extend Hernandez (14-5, 2.14 ERA), who earned his 12th no-decision after allowing two earned runs on seven hits in seven innings. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out seven on 95 pitches, his third lowest total in ’14.
It led to a parade of four relievers to work the eighth inning. In the end, Danny Farquhar struck out Jed Lowrie to strand two runners, who reached via walk. Farquhar pitched a scoreless ninth as well, twice giving his offense a chance to win the game.
The Mariners will have to be careful not to let Saturday night’s loss carry over. Sunday’s series finale looms equally as large.
“It was unbelievable,” Zunino said of the atmosphere. “That fan support we had tonight was awesome.”
The Mariners skipper echoed that sentiment.
“The fans were great. I thought they uplifted the players,” McClendon said. ”It was a helluva game. We just came out on the short end of the stick.”
Mariners OF Dustin Ackley (ankle) was out of lineup for fifth game in last six . . . Saturday’s sellout was the second of the season . . . The Mariners fell to 0-4 in extra inning games at home this season . . . Hernandez became the second pitcher in franchise history to start 300 games.