Cheers for the visiting team are rarely louder at Safeco Field than when the Toronto Blue Jays are in town, and Friday night’s game provided another good-natured competition between blue-clad Jays fans — of which there were a few thousand, as usual — and homestanding supporters of the Seattle Mariners.
Toronto fans are a boisterous bunch when in enemy territory — Seattle’s proximity to Canada means it’s prime real estate for a road trip — and so they filled Safeco with chants of “M-V-P” for star third baseman Josh Donaldson and “Let’s go Blue Jays” for, well, the heck of it.
But no amount of enthusiasm could compensate for the fact that Felix Hernandez was pitching against them, and though he yielded a well-struck solo home run to Jose Bautista in the sixth, Toronto managed little else against the Mariners’ ace in a 5-2 Seattle victory before a bipartisan crowd of 43,328.
“I thought he threw the ball exceptionally well for us,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said of Hernandez.
A towering two-run homer by Mark Trumbo in the fourth and a two-run triple in the fifth by Robinson Cano — the cleanup spot seems to suit him — paced the Mariners against Toronto starter Marco Estrada.
Cano later scored on a wild pitch, providing the Mariners with a cushion that withstood Bautista’s impressive blast off the hand-operated scoreboard in left field.
Hernandez was otherwise stellar, retiring 15 of the 16 batters he faced before Bautista’s homer, finishing with seven strikeouts, one walk and six hits allowed in seven innings.
Toronto tallied its first run in unconventional fashion in the first inning. Leadoff man Jose Reyes reached second base on a nubber and a throwing error by Hernandez, then moved to third on a groundout.
“Should have let it go,” Hernandez said of the ball he fielded and then fired errantly into right field.
It looked as if Reyes would have to stay at third when Edwin Encarnacion tapped a weak grounder to first baseman Logan Morrison. But when Morrison turned his back to amble over and touch first base, Reyes took off, sliding safely across the plate just ahead of Morrison’s late throw.
It was a poor display of fundamentals, but not an incurable gaffe. Trumbo made sure of that with a runner on first base and nobody out in the fourth, lifting a pitch from Estrada well into the sky and over the right-field fence to give Seattle a 2-1 lead.
An inning later, after Kyle Seager corked a double into the right-field corner and Nelson Cruz reached on a bizarre infield hit that should have been a routine groundout, Cano ripped what turned out to be Estrada’s final pitch into the right-center field gap.
Seager jogged home, Cruz steamed around the bases, eventually tumble-sliding safely across the plate ahead of a throw that wasn’t all that close, and Cano wound up at third with his first triple of the season.
Afterward, Cano and Cruz ribbed each other about who ran around the bases faster.
“He’s one of the guys you want on base,” Cano said of Cruz, with whom he’s switched places in the lineup. “He was running hard. Guy can run. Well, he used to run.”
Cano, who slumped for much of the season’s first half, is batting .349 with five homers, five doubles and a triple in July. And in five games as Seattle’s cleanup hitter, he’s 9 for 20.
“I told him he was going to be my secret weapon,” McClendon said. “He hasn’t disappointed. He’s been on a tear. It’s nice to see.”
This was an encouraging amount of production, at long last, from the meat of Seattle’s lineup.
“It was nice,” said Cruz, who had three hits. “It was a total team effort. Everybody did their job. I think the crowd was good, too. More cheers for the other side, but I guess that can get you going, too.”
If Trumbo continues to find his stroke, McClendon said, “I think he’d be big for us. It really stretches our lineup out. Talking about (having) Seager second and Trumbo sixth, that’s pretty special if they’re all going at the same time.”
Toronto threatened to cut the lead in the seventh. With runners at the corners and two outs, and with Jays fans offering audible support, Reyes, 2 for 3 to that point, stepped in for his fourth at-bat against Hernandez.
He eventually struck out swinging to end the inning, the home crowd rejoicing over the top of Toronto fans’ silence.
Mark Lowe and Carson Smith (who earned the save) each pitched a scoreless inning to secure a victory that gave the Mariners consecutive wins for the first time since June 30-July 1.
“I think it’s indicative of the effort that the guys are putting forth,” McClendon said. “… They battled pretty good at the plate against a guy that’s had some success this year, and gave some good at-bats.”
SATURDAY: Toronto (RHP Drew Hutchison 9-2, 5.19 ERA) at Seattle (LHP J.A. Happ 4-5, 4.12 ERA), 1:10 p.m. Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM