By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — On Thursday night, the Seattle Mariners blitzed the Oakland Athletics with five runs in the first inning. On Friday the A’s returned the favor, putting up their own five-spot in the opening frame en route to a 7-5 victory that evened the series at a game apiece.
Despite the big first inning, though, it was far from a cakewalk for Oakland. The Mariners came back to tie the score in the fourth, but the A’s answered by scratching out individual runs in the fifth and sixth to retake the lead. From there, the fearsome bullpen came in to shorten the game and prevent Seattle from making any more noise.
“I feel like our whole team bounced back really well today and that just kind of shows our character,” said third baseman Matt Chapman. “We never let that one game really affect us too much, we just kept pushing toward the next day and I think it’s nice that we jumped out to a lead early.”
After managing just one late run on four hits on Thursday, it took the A’s only two batters to notch their first run on Friday when Chapman launched a solo homer into the left field bleachers. He finishes August with 22 extra-base hits, the most by any player in the big leagues this month.
Later in the inning, the A’s had five straight batters reach base: a walk to Khris Davis, an RBI double from Matt Olson, a homer by Stephen Piscotty, an infield single by Ramon Laureano and then another RBI double off the bat of Marcus Semien to take a 5-0 advantage.
Making the rally even sweeter was that it came off Seattle starter Mike Leake. The veteran right-hander faced the A’s two weeks ago and spun eight scoreless innings.
“I think we did a better job of staying off his pitches tonight,” said Olson, who banged out three hits against Leake. “He’s a guy that if you expand the zone on him, he’ll get you to make soft contact and get the outs that he wants you to get. We did a good job of shrinking the zone and driving those.”
After pushing across a run in the second inning, the Mariners got homers from Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Ryon Healy in the fourth to knot the score at 5-5.
Along the way they also knocked out A’s starter Mike Fiers, who put together his worst outing since being acquired from Detroit. The right-hander began his Oakland career with four straight sparkling performances, but this time he allowed all five runs while making it through just 3 2/3 innings.
“Just a few mistakes that they didn’t miss to some very good hitters,” said Fiers. “Usually you don’t get those balls back. I kinda went to my third or fourth best pitch in a spot where I needed to keep the ball in the ballpark.”
The A’s put runners on the corners with nobody out in the fifth and Laureano knocked one in with a sac fly. In the sixth, the middle of the lineup stepped up with a double by Jed Lowrie and an RBI single from Davis. The hit by Davis snapped an 0-for-19 skid.
For Laureano, the go-ahead RBI was yet another in a long line of highlights and crucial contributions from the rookie.
“You watch the approach in certain at-bats that he makes adjustments,” Melvin said. “[The sac fly] was all we needed out of him today; he didn’t try to do too much. He’s starting to lay off some of those balls away that he was swinging at earlier.”
With the lead once again in place, the A’s unleashed Yusmeiro Petit, Lou Trivino, Fernando Rodney, Jeurys Familia and Blake Treinen, who combined to throw 5 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out seven. They retired 16 of the 19 batters they faced.
“It felt like one of those games where there was gonna be runs scored for a while,” said Melvin. “And once the bullpen came in they just shut ‘em down. Our bullpen is impressive, but I thought even more so tonight based on the fact that the flow of the game seemed to be quite a few runs.”
Fiers also praised the relievers, who have helped Oakland to a 57-0 record when leading after seven innings. “These guys got some nasty stuff. They just take the ball and they run with it, and they make it really hard on that other team.”
The A’s now stand at 81-55 on the season, 5 1/2 games ahead of Seattle for the second Wild Card spot. With the Houston Astros losing to the Angels, Oakland is back to just 1 1/2 games out of the AL West lead. Most importantly, they took care of business in a head-to-head matchup against the team chasing them in the playoff hunt, especially after facing some adversity in the middle innings.
“It just shows you what this team’s about,” said Fiers. “I come out and don’t put up a quality start when these guys put up five early. I kind of gave it back to them, came out in a 5-5 game, and then the bullpen stepped up big and we kept playing ball. We didn’t let it get to us.”