By Larry LaRue
The News Tribune
OAKLAND – On the verge of losing three games in a row for the first time this season, the Seattle Mariners didn’t Tuesday – which passes for news in what has become a remarkable season.
The World Series champion Yankees have lost 30 games this year. The Mets, who won the National League title, have lost 39 times.
And after 69 games, including their come-from-behind, 8-7 victory over Oakland, the Mariners have lost just 16.
“It’s hard to keep in perspective, so we don’t try,” Bret Boone said. “We just come to the park every day to play, and we show up expecting to win.”
They have won in most every way a team can win, thus far, but on Tuesday they added a new touch – and it broke the Athletics’ hearts.
Trailing 4-0 after a rugged first inning by starter Paul Abbott, the Mariners snuck back into the game on two-run home runs by Edgar Martinez and David Bell, forging a 5-5 tie in the seventh inning.
With Mark McLemore perched on first base and two outs, John Olerud hit a fly ball to the warning track in left field. Oakland outfielder Billy McMillon, making his second start with the A’s since they claimed him off waivers from Detroit last week, tracked the ball – then dropped it.
As 17,542 fans issued a collective groan, the ball bounced on the track once and McLemore scored from first base, putting Seattle ahead for the first time.
It wasn’t as dramatic as a game-winning home run, but it was just as effective – except Seattle couldn’t hold that one run lead.
Oakland rallied in the eighth inning to tie, then for a 7-6 lead – using a huge mistake on the mound by Arthur Rhodes – and the Mariners went to the ninth inning trailing, staring at their third loss in a row.
Ichiro Suzuki banged a leadoff single up the middle and Mark McLemore followed with a base hit, sending Suzuki to third base. Against closer Jason Isringhausen, McLemore stole second base, his 22nd consecutive steal of the year.
Edgar Martinez brought the tying run home with a ground ball to the right side, John Olerud walked and Boone – Mr. RBI all season – flied out to medium right field.
Relying on scouting reports, third base coach Dave Myers had McLemore tag up and break for the plate. Jeremy Giambi’s throw to the plate was wide, and McLemore scored the go-ahead run.
Given one more lead, manager Lou Piniella went to his closer, Kazuhiro Sasaki. Sasaki hasn’t been perfect this season – there have been three blown saves – but coming in he’d retired 19 of the last 23 batters he faced.
Against Oakland, he threw a 1-2-3 inning, striking out both Jason Giambi and John Jaha and earning his major-league leading 26th save.
It was a game Sasaki probably deserved to win, if only because no other Seattle pitcher did.
Abbott struggled early, got through six innings but gave up five runs in the process. Rhodes should have been out of a bases-loaded, none out jam in the Oakland eighth inning but gave up the go-ahead run on a comebacker that should have been a double play, but wasn’t.
Rhodes fielded the ball, looked at second base, then home and finally fired to first for one out, screaming at himself in the process. It wasn’t an error, just the kind of mistake neither Rhodes nor his teammates have made often this year.
It was an emotional win for a team that now has 53 of them. Down big early, Seattle inched back when Martinez hit his 11th home run to cut Oakland’s lead to 4-2. An RBI single by Suzuki made it 4-3.
Abbott gave up another run in the third inning, but Bell hit his sixth home run to tie the game in the seventh inning – for his sixth and seventh RBI of the trip.
McLemore walked, and Olerud hit his fly ball to left field.
Against most teams, that might have been enough. When it wasn’t against Oakland, the Mariners had to come from behind in the ninth inning. How many times had they done that this year?
In their previous 13 games trailing after eight innings, the Mariners were 0-13.
For the A’s, the loss was a grit-your-teeth defeat that forced them to face reality. Had they won, they’d have been within 18 games of Seattle. Instead, they’ll wake up this morning 20 games out.
And the Mariners will wake up ready to work on a winning streak instead of snapping what would have been their longest losing streak of the year.