By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — It was a road trip salvaged.
After a forgettable three-game series in Tampa Bay where they lost two of three to the suddenly red-hot Rays, and despite the ugly 15-3 loss on Saturday in Texas, the Seattle Mariners still managed to win back-to-back road series against the top two teams in the American League West with Wednesday’s 5-3 victory over the Oakland A’s at O.co Coliseum.
“It was a great road trip,” acting manager Robby Thompson. “I’m proud of these guys. All three of these teams we played are in either first or second place.”
It’s one of the perplexing and frustrating aspects of these Mariners. They have the potential to beat good teams, but don’t consistently play up to that potential.
The Mariners went 5-4 on the trip that included a blown save by new closer Danny Farquhar in Tampa and a walk-off loss on Monday night against the A’s.
“If you look back on it, it could have been even better,” Thompson said. “We lost a couple tough ball games.”
Still, there may be some debate as to how good the A’s actually are this season, despite a 71-55 record. They looked anything but good against the Mariners. Oakland manager Bob Melvin didn’t give a ringing endorsement of his team’s play after Wednesday’s loss.
“Everything that we did today is what’s wrong with us,” he said. “We didn’t add on early, we didn’t make big pitches when we had to, we didn’t come through in situational at-bats. Ugly, ugly game for us and it’s been going on for a while.”
Meanwhile, it was all smiles for the Mariners in the visiting clubhouse. With Nick Franklin sidelined with stitches in his knee, Thompson decided to add some defense to his lineup with ground ball specialist Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound. He put veteran Brendan Ryan at shortstop and moved Brad Miller to second base.
“We thought about moving (Dustin) Ackley to second base and leaving Brad at shortstop,” Thompson said before the game. “With Kuma putting the ball on the ground, we felt: ‘Let’s get Brendan back in there. He’s done a good job in his last few starts.”
Thompson didn’t mention anything about offense from the light-hitting Ryan, who provided a good portion of it for the Mariners on Wednesday. Ryan drove in three of the five runs Seattle scored.
“He had a couple big hits for us,” Thompson said.
Ryan didn’t look like he was going to be an offensive presence in his first two at-bats. He entered the game in a 9-for-75 slump and started off with two weak at-bats.
After Michael Morse slammed a solo homer to center field to tie the score 1-1 in the second inning, Ryan struck out swinging on four pitches, including an ugly swing at curveball in the dirt for the third strike from Oakland starting pitcher A.J. Griffin. He led off the fifth inning and struck out swinging, again on a curveball from Griffin. Ryan was visibly frustrated.
“It went about as bad as it could in the first couple of at-bats,” Ryan said.
But in his third at-bat, it all went right — sort of.
With two outs, runners on first and second and the Mariners trailing 3-2, Ryan fell behind 0-2 to Griffin. But Griffin made a mistake, hanging a curveball on the third pitch. After flailing at curveballs in his first two at-bats, Ryan yanked this one down the line into the left-field corner.
“Thankfully, he kind of made a mistake with that curveball and left it up a little bit and I didn’t foul it off,” Ryan said. “It was nice to get the barrel to it and keep it fair.”
Morales scored on the play. Dustin Ackley, who was on first base, knew he was going to third on the play, but third-base coach Daren Brown didn’t stop him there, so he kept going. The throw from left fielder Yoenis Cespedes arrived at home plate the same time as Ackley, who did a modified slide/roll into the plate, drilling catcher Steven Vogt in the legs and knocking the catcher flying.
“You know you have third automatically and you just keep going until someone tells you to stop,” Ackley said. “Brownie had me keep going. I was kind of surprised. I just kept going as hard as I could.”
It was a scary collision. Vogt stayed on the ground for a few minutes and had to be looked at by trainers. Ackley popped up and went back to the dugout.
“I was just trying to get to the plate as quick as I could,” Ackley said. “It was a half slide/half not slide. It didn’t hurt at all. I looked back and saw him on the ground. I didn’t know what happened. It didn’t feel like I banged into anything hard.”
While Melvin thought Vogt tagged Ackley on the collision before he got to the plate, he wasn’t as irritated at the call as much as the pitch from Griffin.
“He’s got an 0-2 pitch to Ryan,” Melvin said. “He’s got to make a better pitch than that. That’s two runs right there, and that gave up the lead.”
Ryan pushed the lead to 5-3 in the eighth inning, singling up the middle off Dan Otero to score Justin Smoak from third.
“The guy had a good two-seamer and I just waved at one,” Ryan said. “I was behind in all four at-bats today.”
So what was different for him from the first two to the second two at-bats?
“It was just the hope that something good can happen the next time or two,” he said. “I will take them as ugly as they may be.”
Ryan’s rare run support helped Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma improve his record to 12-6. Iwakuma pitched seven innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
“Iwakuma was Iwakuma,” Thompson said. “The couple times he got hit hard, the ball was elevated. But it’s another fine outing from him.”
Iwakuma gave up a solo home run to Coco Crisp on the first pitch he threw in the game.
“He’s a very aggressive swinger as a lead-off guy,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “But I was surprised with that home run.”
Iwakuma gave up another solo homer to Brandon Moss to start the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly later in the inning as Oakland took a 3-1 lead.
But he got stronger as the game progressed and managed to limit any further damage.
“Early on, my pitches were up, but as I got deeper into the game, I was able to command my pitches lower in the zone,” Iwakuma said.
Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina combined to work a scoreless eighth inning and Danny Farquhar picked up his ninth save in 12 opportunities with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.