OAKLAND - All spring, Eric Wedge told his players they were going to push the envelope offensively - the same envelope, perhaps, that the Seattle offense had been sealed in throughout 2010.
Opening their 35th season, the Mariners broke loose and harassed the Oakland Athletics all night as they overcame an early two-run deficit to win easily, 6-2.
Yes, Felix Hernandez was semi-spectacular – after giving up a two-run homer in the first, he shut out Oakland on three hits the rest of the way for the first complete game of the season.
Yes, the Athletics were brutally bad defensively, making five errors and forcing home two unearned runs.
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But the new-look Seattle offense, which demands a patient at-bat, a team approach and Wedge’s here-we-come-again attack, was as big a surprise as any on this night.
No one was more pleased than Hernandez – the team had scored six runs for him in a game three times over his last 34 starts.
“I told you we were going to be better offensively,” Felix said. “Six runs? Awesome!”
Throughout the game, Wedge did precisely what he’d promised to do with Seattle’s thin offense. When he had speed on the bases, he ran. When he got his No. 8 hitter on base to lead off the inning, he had his No. 9 hitter bunt him up a base to get Ichiro to the plate with a man in scoring position.
And through five innings, the Mariners and Hernandez trailed Oakland, 2-1.
“You keep pushing, and you’re not always going to score,” Wedge said. “Keep pushing, and you will take advantage, and ultimately we did tonight.”
When Brendan Ryan opened the sixth with a walk, Jack Wilson sacrificed him to second base for Ichiro. The Mariners’ right fielder promptly tried to bunt his way on – fouled the pitch off – then singled into left field.
Ryan and third base coach Jeff Datz were aggressive, and Ryan just beat Josh Willingham’s throw from shallow left field to tie the game.
Perched on first, Ichiro – who had already stolen two bases – was picked off and thrown out at second base.
End of the rally? Hardly.
Figgins, who contributed almost nothing in the first half of his first season in Seattle last year, hit his first home run down the left-field line, and Seattle had its first lead of 2011.
Naturally, it was a small one.
“I honestly don’t know what pitch I hit, but I knew I’d got enough of it,” Figgins said. “I don’t hit many, but when I do I usually know they’re gone.”
Ahead 3-2, the lead might have been enough for Hernandez, but the Mariners weren’t done.
The Athletics were.
Two more Oakland errors in the seventh inning turned into three more Seattle runs. At that point, Hernandez had a four-run lead, had thrown only 77 pitches and smelled victory.
What was he thinking?
“Complete game,” said Felix, who now has 14 of them in his career. “I was pumped up.”
It’s a common condition for him in season openers – he’s now 3-0 with a 1.71 in four of them.
Coming off an American League Cy Young Award-winning season, Hernandez dominated Oakland hitters after that first inning, running his career record against the Athletics to 10-4.
How badly did he want it?
When the Athletics opened their eighth inning with back-to-back hits, Felix got consecutive ground balls that turned into a force at third and a double play. That produced a quick fist pump.
In the ninth inning, he got a pop-up and two strikeouts. The 100th pitch he threw was 95 mph – matching his highest velocity of the night.
“Everything was good tonight, the hitting, the defense ... ” Hernandez said.
FOR OPENERS The Mariners are 20-15 in opening day games.
2011at A’sW, 6-2
2010at A’sW, 5-3
2009at Twins W, 6-1
2008Rangers W, 5-2
2007A’s W, 4-0
2006Angels L, 5-5
2005Twins W, 5-1
2004Angels L, 10-5
2003A’s L, 5-0
2002White SoxL, 6-5
2001A’s W, 5-4
2000Red Sox L, 2-0
1999White SoxL, 8-2
1998Indians L, 10-9
1997Yankees W, 4-2
1996White SoxW, 3-2
1994at Indians L, 4-3
1993Blue Jays W, 8-1
1992Rangers L, 12-10
1991Angels L, 3-2
1990at Angels W, 7-4
1989at A’sL, 3-2
1988at A’sL, 4-1
1987at Angels L, 7-1
1986Angels W, 8-4
1985A’s W, 6-3
1984Blue Jays W, 3-2
1983Yankees W, 5-4
1982at Twins W, 11-7
1981Angels L, 6-2
1980Blue Jays W, 8-6
1979Angels W, 5-4
1978Twins W, 3-2
1977Angels L, 7-0