Sunday is the 26th birthday for Felix Hernandez, so Saturday night at the Oakland Coliseum, his Mariners teammates gave him an unusual present -- a seven-run lead. As with most people presented with unicorns, wookies, orcs and other things alien, Hernandez didn't quite know what to do with it.
So he gave six runs back. Fortunately for the Mariners, Michael Saunders launched a game-saver with a solo home run in the sixth inning that was the difference in an 8-7 triumph that provided a 3-1 series win over the Oakland A's spread over parts of two weeks and two countries.
So much for the theory that the hassle of the Japan trip doomed the season.
The Mariners followed their 13-hit barrage in Friday's 7-3 win with another 13 Saturday, including a triple, double and single from new leadoff hitter Chone Figgins. Yet they nearly blew a 7-0 lead.
Hernandez needed all the cushion to prevail on an evening in which his pitches were often either up in the zone or in the dirt. He gave up six runs on eight hits, and had seven strikeouts, a walk and a hit batter. He threw 102 pitches in 6.1 innings.
"He didn't struggle at all, he made maybe two mistakes," said catcher Miguel Olivo. "I told him, 'Let's pitch like it's 1-0.'"s
Certainly that was what he was used to over the last couple of year. But Saturday, all starters had at least one hit, and besides the three by Figgins, Ichiro and Kyle Seager had a pair each. Munenori Kawasaki, a late replacement at shortstop for Brendan Ryan, who had a sore neck, celebrated his first big league start with his first hit and RBI.
A six-run fourth against Bartolo Colon, the A's starter who was nearly unhittable in game 2 in Japan, was the big party inning. Ten batters came to the plate, and the Mariners were four-for-six with runners in scoring position. The big hits were a triple by Ichiro -- a center field drive misplayed by rookie Yoenis Cespedes, who made up for it later -- and a two-out, two run double by Figgins.
"Figgins had a great game for us -- again," said manager Eric Wedge, feeling a little vindicated for a controversial spring training move of Figgins, who hit .188 in a half-season last year, to the top of the order. "That's the reason he's up top. That's where he's most comfortable and confident. He knows how to handle the position as well as anybody."
After the long inning, Fernandez seemed to cool, loading the bases with none out, including a wild pitch and hit batter. But he escaped with a lone run. He allowed a couple more in the sixth when he was pulled by Wedge.
"Felix was really good early," Wedge said. "They made some adjustments, found some holes and kept the pressure on us. It was cool evening. So many times Felix can be a little off and then he gets it right back. That wasn't the case tonight."
But after reliever Lucas Luetge made his major league debut with a three-pitch strikeout, he was replaced by fellow rookie Steve Delabar, who fell behind 2-0 to Cespedes, the powerful rookie from Cuba. He smashed the next fastball, over the heart of the plate, to the heart of center field, more than 400 feet away. The three-run homer was his third of the series and closed the gap to 8-7.
But after that, relievers Tom Wilhelmsen and Brandon League were flawless in the eighth and ninth to give Hernandez the win.
"Tip your cap to Wilhelmsen and League," Wedge said. "The momentum shifted and they came in shut down (the A's). They did a helluva job."
|4/9||Mon||at Tex||Noesi (0-0, 0.00) vs. Darvish (0-0, 0.00)|
|4/10||Tue||at Tex||Beavan (0-0) vs. Feliz (0-0, 0.00)|
|4/10||Weds||at Tex||Millwood (0-0) vs. Lewis (0-0, 0.00)|
|4/10||Thurs||at Tex||Vargas (0-0, 1.42) vs. Holland (0-0, 0.00)|