Timing is everything in Oakland sweep

Athletics 4, Mariners 2: Oakland drives in runners in scoring position to sweep Seattle, which struggles to get timely hits

larry.larue@thenewstribune.comSeptember 10, 2012 

SEATTLE – It is the mark of the 2012 Seattle Mariners that they can out-hit their opponents, 9-5, play errorless defense, hit a double, triple and home run and steal two bases – and score twice.

Those two runs didn’t go far against the Oakland Athletics, who got a three-run home run in the fifth inning and went on to a 4-2 win that allowed them to sweep a three-game set at Safeco Field.

“Timely hits,” pinch-hitter John Jaso said. “They had – what? – three, three-run homers in this series? They had good at-bats with men on base.”

“We ran into a hot team that pitched well and got the key hits they needed,” outfielder Michael Saunders said. “We missed those key hits. They played well.”

And now, Seattle heads out on a six-game trip through Toronto and Texas – two teams that have always given the Mariners trouble.

“This is what September baseball is about,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “You’re playing teams fighting for something, and you’ve got to play at a high level if you’re going to win.”

Three games against Oakland added up to three losses – by a combined score of 16-4.

“We feel like we don’t need to string hits together to score, like we did early in the season,” said Athletics manager Bob Melvin, who managed the Mariners from 2003-04. “We can do it via the long ball and do it in a hurry.

Jason Vargas, working for his 15th win, had the Athletics scoreless through 42/3 innings but couldn’t close out the fifth inning.

With two outs, No. 9 hitter Adam Rosales singled.

“I’ve got to stop him from extending the inning right there,” Vargas said. “That’s the at-bat that upsets me.”

Coco Crisp singled, which brought up Jonny Gomes, who had faced Vargas 10 times previously – and gone 0-for-10.

“He’s one of those left-handers who gives me a headache,” Gomes said. “But I was able to lock it in with men in scoring position. I was going to take the first two pitches, but I was able to jump on the first strike he threw.”

Not exactly.

Vargas worked the count to 1-1, then threw a fastball in and up.

“I wanted to throw it above his hands, above his bat, but he stayed right on it and hit the upper deck faade,” Vargas said.

The home run was the 16th of the season for Gomes and was what Wedge likes to call “a game changer.”

“It’s tough when the offense doesn’t loosen up,” Wedge said. “We’re getting our hits, but we’re not doing damage with them. Saunders came through for us with a two-out triple that got a run home, but you need multiple guys doing that.

“Somebody’s got to come through with men on base,”

The Mariners’ two runs were the result of extra-base hits, but not with the best of timing.

In their half of the fifth, Alex Liddi led off with a single, but watched Brendan Ryan pop up and Franklin Gutierrrez fly out before stealing second base. Saunders them lined a ball down the right-field line to score Liddi – and kept running until he was at third base.

That made it 3-1, and brought up Jesus Montero – Seattle’s hottest hitter – with two outs and a man on third.

Montero struck out.

Kyle Seager hit his team-leading 17th home run leading off the sixth inning to make it 3-2.

It was all the runs the Mariners could produce.

“They bunched their hits together,” Jaso said. “When you’re winning, you want to have the big inning. When you’re losing, you want to stay out of the big inning.

“I led off the ninth inning with a double and we didn’t score, but timely hitting doesn’t have to come in the bottom of the ninth inning. For Oakland today, it came in the fifth inning.”

Vargas went seven innings, allowed just those three runs, and lost for the 10th time. In relief, Josh Kinney gave up a Josh Donaldson home run to lead off the top of the ninth inning.

Then Jaso, pinch hitting for Casper Wells, doubled over third base, a cue shot of a line drive to start the Mariners’ ninth. What remained of a Safeco Field crowd of 14,403 roared as Jaso’s hit brought the tying run to the plate.

Mike Carp took a called third strike.

Eric Thames, pinch hitting for Liddi, flied to right field, a jam shot that looked like it might fall in until Josh Reddick made a diving catch.

Wedge sent Luis Jimenez to the plate as a pinch hitter for Munenori Kawasaki.

Jimenez worked the count to 2-2, then lined a ball the other way – right at left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who made the catch for the final out.

It’s another mark of the 2012 Mariners that, when they lose close games, it’s often with runners on base who stay there.

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue

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