SEATTLE – Any questions now why so many have picked the Oakland A’s to win the American League West?
Barry Zito strode into Safeco Field with a 47.25 earned run average Saturday after an opening-day aberration against the Yankees, and he shoved it down the Seattle Mariners’ bat rack, holding them to one hit in six innings in a 3-0 A’s victory at Safeco Field.
Zito also wiped out Mariners starter Jamie Moyer’s home winning streak, leaving Moyer with a loss at Safeco Field for the first time since Oct. 2, 2004.
After starting the season as one of the American League’s top scoring teams, the Mariners have been shut out the past two games. They’ve also been held to two hits or less in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history.
When A’s reliever Huston Street struck out Richie Sexson to end the game, the Mariners hadn’t scored in the past 201/3 innings.
“When you get a guy like Zito who’s on his game, or like (Joe) Blanton was last night, it’s extremely tough,” manager Mike Hargrove said. “We’re a better hitting ballclub than that.”
The Mariners’ problem now is that Oakland’s pitching won’t get any softer.
Right-hander Rich Harden, the Victoria, B.C., native who won 10 games with a 2.53 ERA last season, will pitch today in the finale of the Mariners’ four-game series and seven-game opening homestand.
The Mariners, who send Joel Pineiro to the mound, need a victory not only to split the series but also to salvage all the good feelings they built by winning three of their first four games.
Zito didn’t give them a chance Saturday.
Even more impressive than Blanton’s two-hitter on Friday, Zito kept the Mariners quiet through six innings, allowing only Sexson’s leadoff double in the second.
Sexson reached third on a wild pitch but he, and the Mariners, didn’t get any closer to scoring.
Zito retired the next 11 Mariners in a row, starting with back-to-back strikeouts of Adrian Beltre and Carl Everett after Sexson had reached third.
“I don’t give credit to pitchers. He’s going to have to show it every time,” Everett said. “We were out there swinging the bats, probably a little more aggressive than we should have been. We swung at some balls out of the zone. You know he’s gong to throw high fastballs out of the zone and you know he’s going to throw his breaking ball. You’ve got to be patient.”
Raul Ibanez, one of the Mariners’ hottest hitters with a .389 average entering the game, had a different view of the approach against Zito after an 0-for-4 night.
“He was getting ahead in the count and pumping a lot of strikes,” Ibanez said. “I don’t think guys were being too aggressive. If you sit back and wait, you’ll wind up walking back to dugout.”
Zito did show a wrinkle in his performance, hitting Kenji Johjima and Willie Bloomquist with pitches to put runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth. Then he caught Yuniesky Betancourt looking at strike three to end the inning.
The Mariners had only one other baserunner in the game, Bloomquist after a one-out walk in the eighth against reliever Kiko Calero.
Moyer, making the 300th start of his Mariners career, was everything but Zito-like.
He held the A’s to six hits and a walk and in 52/3 innings, but was tagged for two runs in the fourth inning on Mark Kotsay’s leadoff home run and Eric Chavez’s RBI single, then another in the sixth when Kotsay hit a triple and scored on Marco Scutaro’s RBI ground out.
“I kept us in the game, but the last two nights they pretty well kept us at bay,” Moyer said. “That’s the way it goes.”
“We pitched well enough to win,” Hargrove said. “We just didn’t score any runs.”
And, just as nobody was willing to consider the Mariners as one of the league’s top offensive teams after so many runs in their first four games, it’s too soon to say they will continue to struggle like they did Friday and Saturday.
“There’s no reason to get down,” Everett said. “We know we can win. Losing yesterday and losing today is not going to knock any confidence from us.”