OAKLAND – There are, of course, no must-win baseball games on Aug. 15.
Not with a quarter of the season still to play. For the Mariners, however, Wednesday in the Coliseum came close to breaking that rule.
Seattle won a game desperately needed when CF Dee Gordon surprised everyone with a two-run homer in the 12th inning. The bomb stood for the only runs in a 2-0 win over Oakland.
The A’s won the first two games of the series (each by a run), and a third such would have been grim for Team Teal. Now, Seattle is just 2½ games behind the A’s in the competition for the second American League wild card berth, with series against three high-powered teams – the Dodgers, the Astros and the Diamondbacks – over the next 10 days.
“This is the way games are going to be the rest of the way,” Gordon said. “It’s really tough. But it’s a little bit of fun, too.”
The Mariners can live with Wednesday’s kind of fun. In the first two games, they not only lost twice, starter James Paxton landed on the disabled list.
He went there officially Wednesday, replaced by RHP Christian Bergman from AAA Tacoma. A few days earlier, the Mariners saw Felix Hernandez taken out of the starting rotation, only to discover that King Felix is their best option with Paxton out. Manager Scott Servais said Hernandez is likely to face the Astros Monday.
Before Gordon’s unlikely homer – in 108 previous games, he’d only had one – the Mariners first needed to get to the 12th inning. Much of that rested upon starter Mike Leake. He threw eight dominant innings, giving up two hits.
He threw nasty pitches on the corners, and in the fourth inning, after giving up a leadoff triple, he struck out the 3-4-5 hitters in the A’s order — Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis and Matt Olson. He said after the game that he was most concerned that No. 2 hitter Matt Chapman would be trouble, so Chapman drew a walk ahead of the three strikeouts.
It was the kind of in-game decision, Leake said, that is part of being able to separate the game itself from the importance of the game.
Tomorrow can take care of itself. Chapman got the walk when he wouldn’t chase the pitches Leake offered. Leake was OK facing the 3-4-5 guys with two men on.
“You can’t think like that,” Leake said when the subject of must-win games came up. “We’re actually a team who can stumble, but then move on. That’s one thing I think we’re actually very good at. It helps that you have a bunch of guys who know how to turn it on and off, and have the ability to know when it’s time to go.
“Hopefully we’ll be experiencing even more of that, because we’re going to need it in this next month. It doesn’t get any easier.”
Ominous words, considering how difficult Wednesday was. Not only did the Mariners come up empty in their first 11 times to the plate, but when Gordon hit his low screaming liner to right, the man on first was C Mike Zunino, noted non-speedster. If the ball hit the wall, there was no guarantee he would score.
There was, however, a promise, sort of.
“I didn’t know if it was going to go out,” Zunino said. “I told Dee after that I was going to score, no matter what. I might have been lying.”
The ball carried over the wall and, more important for Gordon, it eluded an A’s defense that had made all the big plays for the first 29 innings of this series.
“I wasn’t sure it was going out and I was thinking, ‘Just don’t catch it,’” Gordon said. “I’m not going to lie. They’ve been catching everything.
“But this was very important for us, this last game on an important road trip.”
Seattle started by losing two of three in Texas, then found renewed energy in a four-game sweep of the Astros before losing Monday and Tuesday.
“You don’t want to sweep and then get swept,” Leake said. “We got this one out of the way and now we can go home feeling good.”
The Mariners will send Wade LeBlanc, Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzalez against the Dodgers in a three-game Safeco Field set starting Friday. The Dodgers are scheduled to counter with Walker Buehler, Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw.