By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Oakland Athletics got to Seattle just as Mariners pitchers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma delivered a pair of Safeco Field clunkers the past two nights.
Unless you consider an alternative theory.
When the Athletics followed up a 6-1 victory over Hernandez on Friday with a 6-1 win against Iwakuma Saturday, it may just have been a case of Oakland doing what it does best.
With one of the more anonymous rosters in the American League, former Mariners manager Bob Melvin has the Athletics tied with Baltimore in the AL wild card race with a 78-60 record.
In the past two games, they outscored the Mariners 12-2.
“It was disappointing,” manager Eric Wedge said. “That’s a good team, and we’re going to have to play much better to beat them (today).
“We’re not getting production, and that’s been one of our biggest problems all year. We’re not finishing innings off.”
And down in Oakland, they’ve produced a team that does exactly what Seattle tried to create in the 2012 Mariners.
Since the All-Star break, Seattle is tied with Tampa for the AL’s fourth-best record (31-22).
Since July 1, Oakland leads the majors with a 56-30 record.
The Mariners have tried to instill patience in hitters who are batting .231 this year. The Athletics have done that, and despite a .237 team average, they lead the league in pitches seen per at-bat (3.98).
Seattle wants a tenacious team that can stay close and win late — and the Mariners are 15-14 in walk-off decisions. Oakland? The Athletics have won a major league best 20 last at-bat victories.
There’s more, of course. Melvin’s pinch-hitters are hitting a big-league best .299. Oakland has used 18 rookies in 2012, and only eight players on the roster today were with the team a year ago.
Athletics pitchers walk the fewest number of hitters (212) in the AL.
“It seems they always have someone giving them a good start on the mound, they’ve got a great three-four hitting combination,” shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “On paper they’re not intimidating, but maybe that means you owe them a bigger tip of the cap.
“They’re way over .500 and playing well.”
On Saturday, with a Safeco Field crowd of 23,177 watching, the Athletics picked up an unearned run on Iwakuma in the first inning, and the Mariners got an unearned run in the second inning against Brett Anderson.
The difference? Anderson and his bullpen didn’t allow another run all night.
Since coming off the disabled list four starts ago, Anderson is 4-0 with a 0.69 earned run average.
“More than we could ever expect,” Melvin said of Anderson.
Iwakuma couldn’t match that.
“His pitches flattened out in the fourth inning and his pitch selection wasn’t that strong,” Wedge said.
Nine Oakland batters came to the plate in the fourth inning, eight of them against Iwakuma, who gave up five hits and a walk. The biggest blow?
A three-run home run from Athletics shortstop George Kottaras.
Acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline, Kottaras is an infielder who platoons when Melvin feels good about him. Right now, he can’t keep him on the bench.
Kottaras hit a three-run home run on Friday night and, in his last five games, has four home runs and 14 RBI. That’s more home runs and RBI than Franklin Gutierrez has in 23 games this season.
It’s more than Trayvon Robinson has in 33 games.
“It seems like every home run he hits for us has been a big home run,” Melvin said.
What the Mariners couldn’t do was produce in the clutch, leaving nine base runners stranded. As usual, their bullpen held the opposition where it was — pitching 51⁄3 shutout innings — but the offense never closed the gap.
If the Mariners had one gold star to hand out in this one, it likely would go to rookie reliever Carter Capps, who pitched 21⁄3 scoreless innings while striking out four.
“I threw a side session today before the game, 10-12 pitches, just to get the feel for my breaking ball,” Capps said. “I threw the breaking ball early and when I got a little tired at the end I went more with the fastball.”
“He’s starting to figure it out,” Wedge said. “It’s helped than he can throw one, two, two-plus innings for us.”
After 10 appearances, Capps said, he’s developing a sense of what the game requires at this level.
After 140 games this season, more Mariners need to join him. Unless they do, they won’t beat Oakland today — or anyone else with any consistency the rest of the month.