By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
DETROIT — Take a look at the standings. It’s the middle of August and, if the season ended now, the Seattle Mariners would be in the postseason for the first time in 13 years.
The season is, roughly, at the three-quarters mark.
Ready to believe yet?
The Mariners surged past Detroit in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth Friday night with a 7-2 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park.
“It’s a good feeling,” first baseman Logan Morrison said. “We feel like when we get them on, we get them in. We’ve got to keep it rolling. We know what our record is when we score four or more.
“That’s what we’re trying to do every night. Four or more.”
Morrison and Endy Chavez contributed RBI singles to a three-run second inning against Tigers starter Rick Porcello, who had allowed fewer than three runs in eight of his previous 10 starts.
Robinson Cano’s leadoff homer in the third inning made it 4-0 and … well, the Mariners are now 49-10 when they score four runs or more. And four was plenty for James Paxton and the Mariners’ bullpen.
Paxton (3-0) scrambled at times but yielded just one run and five hits in six innings before Tom Wilhelmsen, Dominic Leone and Danny Farquhar closed it out.
“It was definitely a battle tonight,” Paxton said. “I didn’t have a good feel for my release point on my off-speed stuff. Fastball was good, and I’m lucky it was.”
The Mariners (66-55) now hold a one-half game lead over the Tigers (65-55) in the wild-card race. The Mariners also closed to within 61/2 games of first-place Oakland in the AL West.
The only concern was Cano, who left the game in the eighth inning as a precaution after fouling a ball off his foot earlier in the game. The initial prognosis is encouraging.
“He’s just a little sore,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He should be OK. I took him out to get treatment. Hopefully, it doesn’t swell on him.”
The Mariners matched a season high with their fifth consecutive victory and have won nine of their past 10. They also extended a club record by yielding three or fewer runs for the 13th consecutive game.
While Paxton wasn’t sharp — he bounced several off-speed pitches — he is now 6-0 with a 1.88 ERA in nine career starts. No other starter in franchise history has won his first six decisions.
“He’s a guy who doesn’t want to put any pitches to the side,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “We continue to use all of them. That’s enough to leave a little doubt in the hitter’s mind. He has to respect all three of them.”
The sellout Comerica Park crowd of 42,385 greeted ex-Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson with a standing ovation when he led off the game for the Mariners. The Detroit bench joined in the applause.
Jackson spent four-plus seasons with the Tigers before a July 31 trade sent him to the Mariners. That ovation was, pretty much, the highlight of Jackson’s night. He went 0-for-5.
The Mariners, on this night, didn’t need him.
Paxton worked out of a first-and-third jam in the first inning after Miguel Cabrera sliced a two-out double to right field and went to third when shortstop Chris Taylor booted Victor Martinez’s grounder.
The error didn’t faze Taylor, who fielded Torii Hunter’s grounder on the next pitch and glove-flipped the ball to Cano at second.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with that (the error),” Taylor said. “I’ve never really done that before. It kind of just happened. I’ve been doing it a little bit in BP. I don’t have an explanation for it.”
The Mariners then struck for three runs in the second inning after Kyle Seager led off with a single. Porcello hit Zunino in the back before surrendering those RBI singles to Morrison and Chavez.
Taylor’s bunt single loaded the bases with no outs. Jackson’s double-play grounder to short stretched the lead to 3-0. The night only got worse for Porcello, who dropped to 13-8 after yielding six runs in six innings.
“I just didn’t pitch well,” Porcello said. “I was up in the zone. My patterns weren’t very effective. It was one of those nights where everything was up in the zone.”
Trailing 4-0, Detroit scratched one run back in the third when Rajai Davis tripled to right and scored on Ian Kinsler’s grounder to short.
It could have been more.
Cabrera doubled again, past a leaping Jackson in center, but Taylor saved a run with a sparkling play on a Martinez grounder deep into the left-side hole. Taylor made a diving stop and a long throw, which Morrison dug out at first.
The Mariners stretched their lead to 6-1 with single runs in the fourth and fifth. It was more than enough.