The Keep Fighting Kids finally got a little help Friday night in their uphill postseason chase — and they took full advantage.
Robinson Cano hit two homers, while Nelson Cruz and Nori Aoki each contributed one in support of a strong effort from Taijuan Walker as the Mariners rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field.
"This is every kid’s dream come true to be in this spot," Cano said. "You want to play for October. Not just play 162 games and pack your bags. When you play for something, there’s more energy.
"You wake up and you can’t wait to get to the ballpark."
The victory, combined with Toronto’s loss at Boston, allowed the Mariners to pull to within one game of the Blue Jays in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth with two games remaining.
It’s not quite that simple. The Mariners must also catch Detroit, which is one-half game behind the Blue Jays. But it all, suddenly, seems tantalizingly within reach.
"We needed somebody to help us out today," manager Scott Servais said, "and we got a little help. More important, we took care of business. We had to win tonight. We got it done.
"We still need some help, but we’ve still got a lot to play for."
Walker (8-11) gave up one run and two hits in six innings before labored at times before handing a 5-1 lead to Evan Scribner. Walker walked five while throwing 113 pitches.
"It was just one of those weird starts," Walker said, "where one hitter, everything was locked in. The next hitter, I was all over the place… Take away those five walks and maybe I go deeper into the game.
"I’m frustrated. Some of those walks were 0-2 walks, where I got ahead of guys. I just couldn’t put them away."
The bullpen was airtight. Scribner, Nick Vincent and Steve Cishek retired nine straight hitters on 31 pitches over the final three innings.
The Mariners did all of their damage in the first two-plus innings against Oakland starter Raul Alcantara. They didn’t get a hit in six innings against relievers Zach Neal and Daniel Coulombe.
They didn’t need any.
Cano’s first homer was a two-run shot in the first inning that opened the scoring. He cleared the center-field wall by putting a 406-foot change into a 1-1 fastball from Alcantara.
It followed a leadoff single by Aoki and a deep fly out by Seth Smith.
Aoki extended the lead to 3-0 with a two-out homer in the second inning on a high line-hugging drive that struck the Hit It Here Cafe in right field. It was his fourth homer of the year.
Even he couldn’t explain it, noting: "I still can’t believe it."
Cano and Cruz opened the third inning with back-to-back homers. Both went to center field, although Cruz’s blast required a crew-chief video review. It appeared Smolinski might have pulled the ball back into play.
The Mariners just missed a third straight homer when Seager sent Smolinski to the wall. Smolinski caught the ball momentarily with a leaping effort, but the ball came loose when he hit the wall.
The result was a double, which finished Alcantara, who fell to 1-3 after giving up five runs and seven hits in two-plus innings.
Walker pitched around two walks and a Cano error in the fifth inning by retiring Stephen Vogt on a pop to third.
Walker ended the inning at 98 pitches, but the Mariners brought him back for the sixth inning — and he gave up a leadoff homer to Ryon Healy.
That was it, though. Walker retired the next three hitters before the Mariners turned to their bullpen.
Now it’s two days to go, and the Mariners still need a little help.
"We know where we are," Cruz said, "but at the same time, we just have to play our game. So we don’t want to pay too much attention to what is going on at other sites. But, unfortunately, it’s everywhere."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Oakland’s biggest threat came in the fifth inning, when it loaded the bases. Taijuan Walker issued two walks before, with two outs, Robinson Cano mishandled Joey Wendle’s two-out grounder.
It was Cano’s third error of the year, which now matches the previous low in his career. He also had three in 2010 while playing for the New York Yankees.
Walker stranded all three runners by retiring Stephen Vogt on a pop to third baseman Kyle Seager.
PLUS: Robinson Cano’s 38 homers broke the franchise record for second basemen; Bret Boone hit 37 in 2001. Cano also reached 100 RBIs for the fourth time in his 12-year career…reliever Evan Scribner worked a one-two-three seventh inning against his former club. Scribner has not allowed a run in 13 1/3 innings over 11 appearances since being activated for the 60-day disabled list.
MINUS: Adam Lind’s hitting streak ended at 10 games when he went hitless in three at-bats…The bottom four hitters in the Mariners’ lineup (Lind, Leonys Martin, Mike Zunino and Ketel Marte) were a combined 0-for-12…Oakland relievers Zach Neal and Daniel Coulombe combined to retired the final 18 Mariners.
STAT PACK: Former closer Steve Cishek cashed a $500,000 performance bonus by closing out the game. It was his 40th game finished.
QUOTABLE: "You want the other teams to lose," second baseman Robinson Cano said, "but, at the same time, you have to win. You watch (the other results), but when it’s time to play, it’s time to play."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners traded minor-league infielder Tim Lopes to Toronto as the player to be named later in completing the Aug. 6 that netted reliever Pat Venditte. Lopes, 22, batted .284 at Double-A Jackson. He was a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners