By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE— The narrative could change in a hurry, of course. But if the Seattle Mariners muster up something special over the season’s closing weeks, remember Monday’s 11-1 bludgeoning of the Toronto Blue Jays.
A crowd of 41,168 at Safeco Field, swelled by a substantial influx of Canadians, saw the Mariners blow open a tight game between two postseason contenders with a seven-run sixth inning.
“It’s a fun atmosphere,” said catcher Mike Zunino, who contributed two hits and two RBI to a 10-hit attack. “Obviously, you feed off that energy. It just gives you a little bit more. It was a good time tonight.”
The Mariners came up big in a big-time atmosphere and in support of Felix Hernandez, who held the Blue Jays to one run and three hits in seven innings while striking out eight and walking none.
That makes 16 straight starts of at least seven innings while permitting two or fewer runs— which extends his own major-league record. No other pitcher has ever run off more than 13 such starts in succession.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” said Hernandez, who improved to 13-3 and lowered his ERA to 1.95. “They’re part of the game this year. And not only for me but for the whole team.”
This was a game when everything came together for the Mariners, who improved to 63-55 while climbing to within one game of fast-fading Detroit in the race for the American League’s final wild-card spot.
Robinson Cano started the decisive sixth inning with a leadoff homer down the left-field line. And then … well, it was all Mariners. Cano capped that inning with an RBI double.
“We’re playing really good baseball,” he said. “And I’ll say this: When you do the little things, and not try to do too much, that’s when you start playing really well.”
Two no-so-little things: Cano contributed a pair of defensive gems before the game turned into a rout.
He threw to third for an out when Colby Rasmus tried to advance on a grounder to second in the second inning. Cano then made an over-the-shoulder catch in short right of Danny Valencia’s looping pop in the fifth.
Who does that?
“Cano,” Hernandez said. “He’s a great player. He’s fun to watch.”
This was a tight pitchers’ duel with a postseason-chase feel between Hernandez and Toronto starter Drew Hutchison (8-10) until Cano unloaded his homer.
The Blue Jays actually scored first — on Jose Bautista’s two-out homer in the fourth — but the ,Mariners answered immediately.
Cano started the bottom of the inning with a walk and went to third when Kendrys Morales drove a double into the right-center gap. Kyle Seager followed by hammering a 3-0 pitch to deep center for a sacrifice fly.
Morales moved to third on the play before scoring when Zunino sent a blooper that fell just fair in right field for an RBI single and a 2-1 lead.
“That’s what I’ve been working on,” Zunino deadpanned. “No, obviously, in that situation, I’m trying to sell out in looking to go to right. … I was able to keep it fair. I’ll take the payoff for that one.”
The Mariners unloaded on Hutchison and reliever Brad Mills in the sixth.
Cano led off with a line-drive homer to left that hugged the line before landing several rows deep — an area not often reached by left-handed hitters.
“That’s how quickly things can change,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I thought (Hutchison) was good early on.”
After Hutchison issued a one-out walk to Seager, Zunino sent a drive to deep right that caromed off the wall and away from Bautista for an RBI triple.
Hutchison struck out Logan Morrison, but Endy Chavez squirted an RBI double past third for a 5-1 lead.
That finished Hutchison, but Mills immediately served up an RBI triple to Brad Miller. That run was charged to Hutchison, whose final line showed six runs and seven hits in 52⁄3 innings.
Still, the Mariners weren’t done.
Austin Jackson walked and stole second without a throw before Dustin Ackley drove a two-run single into center. It was 8-1.
That got it back to Cano, who drove an RBI double off the right-center wall before Mills finally ended the inning. The only question then, after a long delay, would Hernandez get the chance to extend his streak.
“The key factor is it was warm and kind of humid out,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It’s kind of hard to get tight and stiff in those kinds of conditions. We thought he would be OK to go back out there.”
The Mariners scored two more runs in the seventh against Mills before going to their bullpen. Joe Beimel and Danny Farquhar closed out the rout.
“That was a key game right there,” Hernandez said, “and that was pretty good.”