Hisashi Iwakuma was one out from a complete-game shutout on the night the Mariners honored him with a miniature likeness, handed out to the first 20,000 fans through the Safeco Field gates. Lots of Seattle heads were nodding in approval as the Mariners won 6-2 to claim the series from the A’s, with one more Sunday afternoon.
Iwakuma (8-4, 2.98 ERA) allowed four singles and did not permit a runner past second until two were out in the ninth, when Brandon Moss crushed the first pitch for a two-run homer. Moss’ 20th homer snapped a string of 20 scoreless innings by Iwakuma.
A two-run home run by Kyle Seager in the fifth and a three-run homer by Robinson Cano in the eighth provided more than enough support.
“Iwakuma was as sharp as he’s been all year,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I thought he had a good fastball, he was in and out. He kept them off balance all night except for one pitch in the ninth inning.”
For McClendon, there was no hesitation in pulling his starter despite being one out shy of his first complete game of his two-year MLB career.
“I took him as far as I (could) take him,” McClendon said. “I don’t get caught up in complete games. I know you guys like to write about them, I know the fans love it — I get caught up in winning games.
“I know that’s a darned good baseball team in that other dugout over there and you give them an inch, they’re looking to take a yard. Kuma started missing his spots and we got him out of there. ”
In the second inning, Dustin Ackley singled home Corey Hart for a 1-0 lead, which grew to three in the fifth after Seager connected for his 15th home run with Cano on base.
The Mariners collected 10 hits off Athletics’ starter Jesse Chavez in their third meeting against the young right-hander. Chavez (7-6, 3.14 ERA) walked two and struck out six while allowing three earned runs over 5.2 innings.
“(Chavez) battled tonight,” Oakland skipper Bob Melvin said. “He gave up some hits, but really, just the Seager home run was the big blow.”
Seattle (51-43) made Chavez work, something the A’s didn’t do against Iwakuma. They had at least one hit in all six innings Chavez pitched, advancing a runner to second in all but two.
The M’s tacked on three in the eighth, even after watching LF Yoenis Cespedes throw out Willie Bloomquist trying to score from second base on a single by Endy Chavez. The assist was Cespedes’ 11th, most in the majors. But after Jones drew a walk, Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch for his seventh home run.
Cano batted 3-for-5 with a home run, three RBI and two runs scored. He’s hitting .334 with a .389 on-base percentage. His manager still believes he hasn’t reached his peak.
“He hasn’t really gotten hot yet,” McClendon said. “The weather’s starting to warm up a bit, he’s starting to heat up. I think you’re starting to see the real Robbie Cano come out.”
The Mariners were 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position. For McClendon and his team, it’s nice to see some clutch hits after the 4-for-43 run with RISP over the six games prior to this series with Oakland.
“(In the) Minnesota series we didn’t get the hits, but we swung the bats well,” McClendon said. “The last two days they’re starting to fall in for us.”
For all the good the offense did, it was Iwakuma’s night. He was helped by his defense, including two nifty plays by Seager at third.
In the fourth, Seager gloved a hard-hit grounder off a tough hop and fired to Cano covering second to start a 5-4-3 double play. Then in the eighth, he ranged over to his right near the line, gloved a grounder on a short hop and threw to first to retire speedy Craig Gentry.
After missing the first month of the season due to a strained index finger he suffered in spring training, Iwakuma seems to be settling in. Including Saturday, he is 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA with 25 strikeouts over 21.2 innings in his last three starts. A key has been game-planning by Iwakuma and the coaching staff.
“He might have become a little predictable,” admitted McClendon. “(Now) he’s got a nice mix. He’s in and out, he’s up and down, he’s using all his pitches — I think that makes him pretty tough.”
LHP James Paxton threw a three-inning simulated game Saturday afternoon. Paxton threw 53 pitches with his cutter and curveball appearing the sharpest to hitters Jesus Sucre, Bloomquist, and Ackley. Barring a setback Sunday, Paxton will return to the mound Thursday with a minor-league rehab start for Everett . . . Bloomquist replaced Brad Miller at shortstop in the fifth inning after Miller was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. It marked Miller’s first career ejection . . . Sucre made his first start of the season for Seattle and collected his first hit.