Sean Manaea — and, later, Edwin Diaz — had as much trouble throwing strikes on Monday as the Mariners did getting hits.
And yet they scored six runs, enough to achieve victory on this chilly May evening against the Oakland Athletics, in spite of a near-meltdown in the ninth inning that made this one far more interesting than it needed to be.
Manaea, the A’s lefty starter, walked four batters in the first inning — including two with the bases loaded — and yielded a towering, two-run home run to Nelson Cruz in the second that helped the Mariners claim a 6-5 victory. Seattle won despite just four hits — two in the final seven innings — of this series opener before a crowd of 15,431 at Safeco Field.
One of those hits, though, was a two-run homer by Kyle Seager with one out in the eighth inning that gave closer Edwin Diaz a three-run cushion as he took the mound in the ninth. He needed it. Diaz walked four consecutive batters before exiting the game with the bases loaded and one out. Right-hander Tony Zych entered and got Khris Davis to ground out to shortstop for the second out, though it plated Oakland’s second run of the inning.
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After an intentional walk to Yonder Alonso loaded the bases again with two outs, pinch hitter Adam Rosales worked the count full before watching a called third strike on the outside corner to end the game and record the first save of Zych’s career.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said Zych wasn’t even supposed to pitch tonight.
“As a reliever, you’ve always got to be ready no matter what,” Zych said. “That’s what happens.”
Earning his first save, Zych said, was “pretty special.” But the Mariners would have preferred Diaz to close the thing out himself.
“Mechanically, you see it, he gets out of whack,” Servais said of the young closer, “and I think because he doesn’t have a ton of experience at this level, it’s, ‘how do you get yourself back in?’ The veterans, the guys that have been around for a while, it’s, ‘if it starts going bad, where do I go?’ I think that’s kind of what we’re seeing a little bit tonight. Eddie couldn’t find a release point, struggled with the breaking ball. Luckily we were able to bail him out.”
The Mariners (18-21) needed this one badly after losing four consecutive games to the Toronto Blue Jays and scoring six runs during that series.
Right-hander Yovani Gallardo allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. Manaea allowed two hits and struck out seven batters in five innings in the loss.
“Gallardo did a really, really good job for us tonight,” Servais said. “I was excited the way he threw the ball. Probably the best fastball he’s had all year.”
This still wasn’t a particularly encouraging offensive display — Manaea settled down after the first two innings and retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced — but the Mariners nevertheless jumped to a 4-0 lead on Cruz’s blast in the second inning.
Oakland (16-22) put a dent in that margin with two homers against Mariners starter Yovani Gallardo: one by slugger Khris Davis to dead center in the fourth, and another by catcher Stephen Vogt to right field that made it 4-3 in the fifth.
Gallardo left the game in the seventh inning after A’s shortstop Christian Pinder hit a sharp grounder off the glove of Kyle Seager that turned into a hustle double and put runners on second and third with one out.
Right-hander Dan Altavilla relieved Gallardo and promptly walked Rajai Davis, the No. 9 hitter, on four pitches to load the bases. Then he started 2-0 to leadoff hitter Matt Joyce. But Altavilla came back to strike Joyce out, then coaxed a groundout by Jed Lowrie to second baseman Taylor Motter — who had shifted into shallow right field against the left-handed hitter — to escape the jam unscathed.
Seager’s homer in the eighth came after Guillermo Heredia reached second base on a throwing error by Pinder.
The Mariners used three pitchers — recently activated right-hander Steve Cishek, left-hander Mark Rzepczysnki and right-hander Nick Vincent — to retire the A’s in the eighth, though Vincent yielded a two-out, ground-rule double to designated hitter Ryon Healy before striking out Trevor Plouffe to end the inning.
PLAY OF THE GAME: None better then the final pitch, a called third strike on the outside corner on a 3-2 count. Had it been a ball, the tying run would have scored.
PLUS: Seager, off to a slow start this season, hit his third home run to give the Mariners some insurance in the eighth inning. … Cishek retired the only batter he faced in his 2017 debut. He was activated prior to the game after spending the first six weeks of the season on the disabled list as he recovered from offseason hip surgery.
MINUS: After their stellar start, the Mariners managed exactly zero hits in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings – and only one baserunner in that time. … Diaz issued a career-high four walks and allowed two runs in 1/3 inning.
STAT PACK: Jean Segura extended his hitting streak to 14. … Seager has hit safely in 16 of his last 21 games. … Cruz has hit safely in 19 of his last 22 games with an at-bat, and is hitting .388 with seven homers, six doubles and 25 RBI during that span.
QUOTABLE: “One thing I do know, you have to enjoy the wins in this league. It’s hard to win. If you don’t — no matter how you get there, you have to enjoy it. They’re out here busting it every day. The guys are working hard. We know our backs are against the wall a little bit with the injuries. We have to enjoy the wins, no matter how they come out.” – Servais