With Oakland experiencing its worst fade of the season (lost 13 of 17) and Detroit fiddling around .500 over the past week, the Mariners had a prime opportunity this weekend to make major headway in the AL wild card race. They failed twice against the heavy-hitting Washington Nationals Friday and Saturday, but rallied Sunday after trailing 3-1 for a 5-3 victory spearheaded by Dustin Ackley.
Ackley countered two massive solo home runs by Bryce Harper in the second and fourth innings with a three-run blast in the fifth that made a winner out of Hisashi Iwakuma (13-6, 2.90) in front of 26,221 at Safeco Field, snapping Seattle’s ill-timed three-game losing streak.
The Mariners (73-62) are four games behind Oakland, as well as a half game behind the Tigers for the AL’s second wild card spot. Tthe A’s, Seattle’s next opponent, and Tigers lost Sunday.
Ackley concluded one of the best months of his career (six homers, 24 RBIs, .533 slugging percentage) with a career-high-tying four-RBI day — he also had an RBI single in the third — as the Mariners won despite another barrage of home runs by Washington, which cranked three moon shots off Iwakuma before he settled down.
The Nationals banged 10 home runs during the three-game series, most by a visitor in a three-game set at Safeco Field since the Cleveland Indians whacked 11 July 24-26, 2009. But the Mariners prevailed, snapping an 11-game losing streak to the Nationals, with effective pitching by Iwakuma after his early struggles and the work of four relievers, including Fernando Rodney, who notched his 39th save in 41 chances and 28th in his last last 29. Rodney needed only eight pitches to close it out.
Iwakuma allowed three runs, all homers, on five hits in six innings, fanned six and didn’t walk a batter. Remarkably, Iwakuma has has many wins (13) this season as he has walks.
“It was a good win for us,” said manager Lloyd McClendon, just back from attending his daughter’s wedding in Chesterton, IN. “You never want to be swept, particularly at home, but getting swept — that’s hard to make up. So this is really nice to see. The Nats are a great team. They grind out at-bats and there are no easy outs. In the first two games, we had opportunities but didn’t cash in. Today, Iwakuma didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled and then Ackley got the big hit.”
“I was just trying to give the team the lead there, and that was huge,” said Ackley. “The win is a big spark for us going on the road. Any time you can win games like this, it’s a big boost. We needed this one.”
Harper’s massive solo homer off the Hit It Here Cafe windows in the second staked Washington starter Tanner Roark to a 1-0 lead. Nate Schierholtz’s swat over the center field wall in the third made it 2-0.
But the Mariners came back with a run in their half of third when Brad Miller doubled, Austin Jackson reached on an infield single and Ackley drilled a single over the mound, scoring Miller.
Harper got the run back for the Nationals in the fourth when he rocketed a 3-and-1 Iwakuma offering 416 feet over the wall in the center.
Ackley didn’t quite achieve that distance in the fifth, but his three-run homer with Miller and Jackson aboard sent Iwakuma and the Mariners to a 4-3 lead. Endy Chavez’s run-scoring double in the eighth provided insurance.
The Mariners went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and three produced multi-hit games: Jackson 3-for-4, Ackley 2-for-4, Miller 3-for-4 . . . The Mariners avoided losing four in a row for the first time since July 22-25 . . . James Jones stole his 21st and 22nd bases in the eighth inning, and is 22-for-23 in SB attempts this season . . . Mariners finished August 17-10 and evened their Safeco Field ledger at 36-36 . . . With the end of the Pacific Coast League season, the Mariners are expected to call up six to eight players Monday.
NEXT: The Mariners begin a two-city, seven-game road trip Monday with the first of three against the Oakland Athletics. RHP Chris Young (12-6, 3.17), with nearly a week’s worth of rest, will oppose RHP Jason Hammel (1-5, 5.77). Following the Oakland series, the Mariners will play four at Texas. Eighteen of Seattle’s final 27 games will be played away from Safeco Field.
Road games…….a good thing.