The Mariners remain alive in the American League wild card race, but it took a one-of-a-kind game in major league history for that to happen.
To give the Mariners their best chance of sweeping the Los Angeles Angels this weekend, almost a necessity if Seattle is to remain in the American League wild card race, manager Lloyd McClendon opted Thursday to use, instead of a true starter, a combination of relievers for the series finale in Toronto. That permitted Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Felix Hernandez to work on regular rest Friday through Sunday.
With Chris Young out of gas after working 165 innings (his most since 2007), rookie Roenis Elias shut down for the year with an elbow injury, and Erasmo Ramirez reduced to a human piñata, McClendon had little choice but to go with an all-reliever approach.
McClendon used a platoon of relievers earlier this season in order to re-align his rotation. On July 10, he started Tom Wilhelmsen against the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field. Wilhelmsen worked 2.2 innings and was followed by Danny Farquhar (2.0), Joe Beimel (1.1), Dominic Leone (1.0), Charlie Furbush (1.0) and Lucas Luetge (1.0). The six relievers allowed three earned runs in a 4-2 loss.
The outcome was more favorable Thursday in Toronto, where Wilhelmsen (1.1), Luetge (0.2), Leone (1.0), Beimel (1.0), Yoervis Medina (1.0), Farquhar (2.0), Furbush (0.2), Carson Smith (0.1) and Fernando Rodney (1.0) collaborated for a 7-5 victory that pulled the Mariners within two games of Oakland for the second wild card spot.
Seattle’s was a most unusual win — unique, in fact. Without elaboration, Elias Sports Bureau pointed out that no other team in major league history won a nine-inning game in which it used nine or more pitchers, all of whom threw no more than two innings apiece.
Here’s some elaboration on the Elias report: Prior to Thursday, only five teams used nine or more pitchers in a nine-inning win. The Colorado Rockies used 10 in beating San Diego Sept. 7, 2007.
But none of the other five restricted all of their pitchers to two or fewer innings as the Mariners did, as the following shows (No. is pitchers used; <2 is number of pitchers throwing two or fewer innings):
|2014||Sept. 25||Mariners||Blue Jays||L. McClendon||W 7-5||9||9|
|2001||Sept. 8||Cardinals||Dodgers||T. LaRussa||W 6-5||9||8|
|2005||Oct. 2||Cardinals||Reds||T. LaRussa||W 7-5||9||8|
|2006||Sept. 25||Astros||Phillies||P. Garner||W 5-4||9||8|
|2007||Sept. 7||Rockies||Padres||C. Hurdle||W 10-4||10||8|
|2007||Sept. 18||Nationals||Mets||M. Acta||W 9-8||9||8|
Who knew that it would take a one-of-a-kind game in major league history to keep the Mariners alive in the wild card race?
As play starts Friday, the Mariners are three games behind Kansas City and two behind Oakland with three to play. Obviously, the Mariners cannot overtake the Royals, and will need considerable help from the A’s. So the outlook for Seattle is dire, especially considering they close with the Angels, the division champion still looking to gain home-field advantage.
But dire, as McClendon pointed out Thursday, isn’t necessarily hopeless. The Athletics, lost seven of their last nine and finish with three at Texas, the hottest team in baseball with 12 wins in their last 13 games. The A’s still need a combination of wins of their own and Seattle losses totaling two in order to clinch. But the way the A’s have faded, who knows?
McClendon will start Hisashi Iwakuma (14-9, 3.54)) against Jered Weaver (18-8, 3.52) Friday night. Over his last six, Iwakuma has a 9.12 ERA, nothing like his normal self. In four of those, Iwakuma lasted fewer than five innings. According to McClendon, Iwakuma has been battling injuries.
James Paxton (6-4, 3.03) will throw Saturday opposite Cory Rasmus (3-1, 2.38). Paxton is coming off the worst start of his career – nine runs allowed (eight earned) on seven hits with six walks in 2.2 innings at Toronto.
Felix Hernandez (14-6, 2.34) will throw Sunday, but perhaps only if the Mariners need him. Hernandez will be coming off the worst inning of his career (seven runs in the fifth Wednesday in Toronto). He’ll oppose C.J. Wilson (13-10, 4.61), who pitched seven scoreless innings against the Mariners Sept. 17.