By John Hickey
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — The Seattle Mariners are likely to see Jed Lowrie’s swing in their nightmares after Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Oakland A’s.
Lowrie’s first-inning line drive caught the left arm of Mariners’ ace James Paxton and knocked him out of the game. He might avoid the disabled list, because X-rays taken during the game were negative and the diagnosis was a left forearm contusion.
Two innings later, Lowrie unloaded his 100th career homer, a two-run, two-out blast off Felix Hernandez in what was the first relief appearance of Hernandez’s career.
“If you ask me which one was hit harder,” Lowrie said, “if you look at exit velocity, it was the line drive up the middle. The home run was placed nicely down the line, let’s put it that way.”
Lowrie’s homer made a winner out of Mike Fiers with Blake Treinen getting his 32nd save as the A’s won for the 38th time in the last 50 games.
“Jed’s got some nice round numbers he’s accomplished recently,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s driving balls again. He’s looking like he did early in the season.”
The homer put the A’s into a 3-1 lead and the newly acquired starter Fiers and the bullpen was able to make that work as the A’s won for the fourth game in succession and for the 11th time in 13 games to move to within one game of first-place Houston in the American League West.
Even as the A’s moved closer to the Astros they opened up room on the third-place Mariners, who are now 3½ games behind Oakland in the race to the second AL wild card berth.
“We’re just trying to win each game,” Melvin said. “We’ve got some confidence, obviously, because of this stretch. There’s a lot of games left. We know where we are in the division. Until you are out of it in the division, you don’t think about the Wild Card.”
The news Tuesday night was supposed to be the return of Mariner Robinson Cano after his 80-game drug suspension, but that storyline didn’t last an inning with Lowrie taking charge against Paxton and Hernandez.
Cano was back in the Seattle lineup for the first time since May 13 after having been flagged for the use of a banned diuretic. The Coliseum fans, 17, 419 of them, weren’t kind to Cano, booing the former All-Star lustily when given the opportunity.
The Mariners got off to a 1-0 lead in the first on a Mitch Haniger leadoff double and a pop fly with two out from Nelson Cruz. Stephen Piscotty’s bid for a diving catch in right field came up just short, Cruz getting a single and an RBI on the play.
But the A’s retaliated moments later. Marcus Semien opened the bottom of the first with a homer off Paxton to left field. It was the 10th homer of the season for Semien and the second game-opening homer of his career. Both have come against the Mariners.
Hernandez, who lost his job in the rotation last week after 398 starts for Seattle, pitched through the first and second inning without trouble, then got the first two outs in the third. But he walked Matt Chapman, and then Lowrie delivered his tie-breaking homer.
The A’s didn’t get much more offense than that, but the bullpen was steady after Fiers delivered six two-run innings — the second run came on a Cameron Maybin homer — and the defense was outstanding.
Rookie centerfielder Ramon Laureano went up against the wall about 400 feet from home plate to take away possible extra bases from Maybin to end the seventh, and Chapman roamed far from third base to lean over the tarp to retire Cano to end the eighth.
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