By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — Big start. Big finish. And the Mariners win again. A four-run ninth inning Tuesday night broke open a close game and produced an 8-3 victory over the Oakland A’s at the O.co Coliseum.
With the bases loaded and Seattle leading 4-3, Corey Hart avoided an inning-ending double play in the ninth inning by beating a relay throw on his slow one-out grounder to the shortstop. A run scored.
A one-run lead was now two runs. The Mariners then blew it open. Justin Smoak looped a two-run single, and Kyle Seager added an RBI double. The lead, that quickly, was five runs.
Tom Wilhelmsen closed out the victory by pitching a scoreless ninth. It was the Mariners’ fourth consecutive victory and their ninth in 11 games. It also lifted them over .500 by boosting their record to 16-15.
The four-run ninth followed a three-run first inning against A’s starter Jesse Chavez that staked rookie lefty Roenis Elias to an early lead. Elias and the bullpen nursed the lead into the ninth.
The Mariners were clinging to a one-run lead when Brad Miller opened the ninth with a four-pitch walk from Jim Johnson, who then threw wildly on Michael Saunders’ sacrifice bunt.
That put runners at second and third with no outs and forced the A’s to shorten their infield. Johnson eased the pressure by striking out James Jones, which only prompted an intentional walk to Robinson Cano.
Hart’s soft grounder to short produced a run when he beat the relay to first. Then Smoak and Seager. And it looked like an night.
Elias (3-2) battled command issues in the early innings — he threw just 25 of his first 51 pitches for strikes — but pitched into the seventh inning before exiting after a one-out walk to Nick Punto.
Dominic Leone, another rookie, inherited the M’s 4-3 lead and the top of the A’s order. Coco Crisp put down a terrific bunt up the third-base line for a single that moved Punto to second.
Leone had a chance to get out of the inning when Jed Lowrie grounded to first, but Leone was slow to break to first, and the Mariners settled for one out. Leone still escaped when John Donaldson grounded into a force out.
Elias’ final line showed three runs and five hits in 61⁄3 innings.
Leone retired the first two batters in the eighth before walking Alberto Callaspo and yielding a single to Craig Gentry. That brought Charlie Furbush into the game for a left-on-left match-up against Brandon Moss.
Three-pitch strikeout. That got the game to the ninth, and you know what happened there.
Chavez (2-1) had yielded just eight earned runs in 38 innings during six previous starts, but the Mariners slapped him for three in the first inning Tuesday. They knocked him out with another run in the sixth.
The three-run first started after Jones, in his first career start, and Cano delivered successive one-out singles in the first inning.
Hart followed with a drive to deep right, but Gentry made a leaping catch at the wall. Jones moved to third, though, and scored on a wild pitch.
When Smoak pulled a double past third, Cano scored from second for a 2-0 lead. Chavez walked Seager, and Dustin Ackley followed with an RBI single to center and it as 3-0.
Elias pitched around a leadoff single in the first but found two-out trouble in the second when he walked Gentry, surrendered an infield single to Moss and threw a wild pitch.
The A’s cashed the chance when Punto drove a two-run single into center. Punto took second on Jones’ throw to the plate, but Elias held the 3-2 lead when Crisp grounded out to second.
Moss took a run away from the Mariners in the third by making a terrific grab on Smoak’s sharp one-out grounder with Cano on second after a leadoff single. Seager’s routine fly to led ended the inning.
Another possible run slipped away in the fourth with Ackley at second with two outs. Saunders sent a hard line back through the box that Chavez caught in self-defense before the impact knocked him to the ground.
Miller’s two-base throwing error on Gentry’s one-out grounder in the fourth put the tying run at second, but Elias retired the next two hitters.
The Mariners put runners at first and third with one out in the sixth. Chavez hit Seager with a pitch, and Seager went to third on Ackley’s single to center.
Zunino’s sacrifice fly to right boosted the lead to 4-2 and finished Chavez.
Elias had only allowed three hits through five innings but immediately gave that run back by serving up a leadoff homer to Yeonis Cespedes in the bottom of the inning.
Derek Norris followed with a line single to right, but Alberto Callaspo grounded into a double play. Elias ended the inning by striking out Gentry.