By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Start with the King and add a little luck. That’s all Felix Hernandez needs — right? — just a little luck.
The Mariners turned that formula into a 3-2 victory over the Oakland A’s while snapping a three-game skid Friday night at Safeco Field.
Hernandez tuned up for a possible start next Tuesday in the All-Star Game by becoming the first pitcher in 40 years to pitch at least seven innings in 11 consecutive starts while allowing two or fewer runs.
“He stepped up huge for us,” designated hitter Logan Morrison said. “We really needed this one, and it was a good statement for us to make in the first game of the series, Now, try to keep it going.”
Hernandez (11-2) did it the hard way. He yielded two runs in the first inning before turning dominant. Fernando Rodney then survived a stressful ninth for his American League-leading 27th save.
Rodney started the inning by retiring Jed Lowrie on a pop but walked Derek Norris, who went to second on a wild pitch and to third on Yoenis Cespedes’ fly to deep right.
Nick Punto’s foul pop down the left-field line fell between three pursuing Mariners, but Rodney ended the game by slipping a called third strike past Punto, who fired his helmet to the ground in disgust.
That resulted in an ejection from umpire James Hoye, who also got an earful from Oakland manager Bob Melvin.
“Just look at it,” Melvin said later. “Tough way to end the game.”
Rodney said: “All of my pitches are strikes.”
The ending pumped plenty of tension into the crowd of 32,971.
The luck? That came a little earlier.
Robinson Cano broke a 2-2 tie with two outs in the sixth inning by slicing a flare to left field that dropped just fair and turned into an RBI double against A’s starter Jeff Samardzija.
“We’ve been hitting the ball hard for the last few days,” Cano said, “but just right at them … I was thinking, ‘Just get something over the plate.’ This guy is nasty. He’s a guy (where) you’ve got to be ready to hit.”
Cano’s double followed a slicing two-out double to left by James Jones. It also marked the Mariners’ first RBI hit with a runner in scoring position since Brad Miller’s RBI double in the 14th inning last Saturday in Chicago.
“We hit a lot of balls hard that didn’t find holes,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It was nice to see one of those fall in. We’re certainly due for a few of those.”
The victory enabled the Mariners, at 50-43, to reach 50 victories prior to the All-Star Game for the first time since 2003. It also kept them atop the race for the second wild-card spot.
Hernandez gave up two runs and six hits in eight innings — no runs and three hits after the first inning. He struck out nine and walked two in a 101-pitch performance.
“(The A’s) try to get after him sometimes and sometimes they are patient,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “Whatever they feel is the best way to attack him that day.
“We have to go through the first time through and see what they are trying to do. What he did today speaks to how he’s been able to adjust and pitch all year.”
Hernandez became the first pitcher since Cleveland’s Gaylord Perry in 1974 to post 11 consecutive starts of seven or more innings and two or fewer runs. (Perry got his 300th victory in 1982 while pitching for the Mariners.)
Samardzija (1-1) gave up three runs and five hits in an eight-inning complete game. It was his second start for the A’s since arriving in a July 5 trade with the Chicago Cubs.
Oakland jumped to its quick lead against Hernandez when Stephen Vogt stroked an 0-2 change-up over the right-field wall for a one-out homer.
“Fortunately, he hung (a change-up),” Vogt said. “I reacted in and hit it out. He was tough tonight. We had very few opportunities to score runs. He did a good job of keeping the ball down.”
The A’s weren’t done.
Josh Donaldson beat an overshifted infield for a single, went to second on Brandon Moss’ grounder and scored on Lowrie’s two-out single up the middle.
Then, Hernandez got down to business.
“That’s it,” he told himself. “No more. You have to keep them down. Against a tough pitcher, it’s going to be like that.”
Morrison led off the second by driving a full-count fastball to right for a no-doubt homer, and the Mariners pulled even on Endy Chavez’s sacrifice fly in the third.
That was it until Cano’s well-placed bloop.
“This was one of those games …,” Cano said. “Especially when you get that kind of crowd, you want to show the fans that you’re ready to play. You want to win.”
Having Hernandez helps. That and a little luck.