OAKLAND — It’s had many names since it was opened in 1966 — the latest dubbing of the relic of a stadium is the somewhat absurd O.co Coliseum (short for Overstock.com).
But it always will be the Oakland Coliseum to people around baseball and the Bay Area.
On Tuesday night, the cavernous old ball yard was just big enough for Hisashi Iwakuma and not quite big enough for Michael Morse in the Mariners’ 7-1 win over the Oakland Athletics.
Iwakuma pitched six solid innings to pick up the win, yielding only one run despite A’s hitters driving five fly balls to the deepest reaches of the outfield only to see them run down by Mariners outfielders.
“He threw the ball well,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I was really pleased with the way he threw. He was strong. He did a nice job of using his fastball.”
Well, there was one fly ball to the outfield that didn’t get caught. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland’s slugging package of muscle and swinging fury, hit an Iwakuma slider over the wall in dead center. It was a massive home run.
It was also one of two hits that Iwakuma allowed. The other was a one-out single from Eric Sogard an inning later. After the Cespedes’ home run, Iwakuma retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced.
“After the home run, I told myself I needed to stay calm and be patient,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “That got me back into the groove and just being able to locate my pitches carefully.”
Wedge lifted Iwakuma after six innings because of the blister on his middle finger of his throwing had begun to get tender.
“I didn’t want to push it,” Wedge said. “If he didn’t have that, I probably would have sent him back out there. It’s not a big deal, but I want to make sure it doesn’t end up becoming a big deal.”
Meanwhile, Morse, one of the sluggers brought in by the Mariners (2-0) in the offseason to add some power to the middle of the line-up, erased the 1-0 deficit an inning later. With Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager each drawing walks off of A’s starter Jarrod Parker, Morse crushed his first home run of the season. The big right-hander reached out and drove 93 mph fastball on the outside corner over the wall in right field past a leaping Josh Reddick for a three-run homer. He battled with Parker, fouling off two pitches before getting the home run on a 2-2 pitch.
“If I hit it good enough, it’s always got a chance,” Morse said.
It was a big hit at a big time. The one-run deficit went turned into a 3-1 lead with one swing.
“That’s a difference maker in a ball game,” Wedge said. “It changes the entire course of the ballgame. Everything changes from there — the way you manage, the entire mindset, the ballpark and both clubs. That was really big for us.”
That’s not something the Mariners had last season.
“It’s great thing to have that ability,” Morse said. “Any time you can change the game like that, it’s a good thing.”
But with the Mariners leading comfortably 6-1 in the ninth inning, Morse went with distance over damage. He smacked a 94 mph fastball from A’s closer Grant Balfour to center field. The ball carried over the wall at the 400 foot mark and bounced off the wall behind it.
“Yeah, I knew I had that one,” he said with a grin.
If Cespedes’ homer was impressive, Morse’s homer was more so.
“He can completely take over a game with his bat,” said Kyle Seager, who got on base five times with two doubles, a single and two walks. “Obviously, what he did in the ninth was pretty special.”
The seven runs and the power from the middle of the line-up seem atypical from the Mariners after the past few anemic offensive seasons. Also different was the patience at the plate. Seattle hitters drew eight walks.
“I loved the way they fought through at-bats,” Wedge said. “When you do that good things will happen for you.”