The main storyline for Thursday’s conclusion of the two-game series between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners at the Tokyo Dome was Ichiro Suzuki’s retirement, but amidst all that hubbub, there was an awfully good baseball game going on.
Unfortunately for the A’s, who served as the home team for both games, Seattle managed to sweep the set with a 5-4 win in 12 innings, putting aside the noise from all the narratives to pull away in the extra frames.
As if Ichiro’s retirement wasn’t enough to distract the Mariners from the actual game, they also had the distractions of two MLB debuts, with Rule 5 pick Brandon Brennan pitching the eighth inning and Bay Area native Braden Bishop making his MLB debut when Ichiro left the game. With a tie game in the eighth, Brennan surrendered a leadoff walk to Mark Canha, and pinch-runner Franklin Barreto advances to third on a Ramon Laureano single, but pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman would bounce into an inning-ending double play.
It was the veterans who pulled through for Seattle (2-0), with a Dee Gordon leadoff single off Ryan Buchter sparking the go-ahead run. Mitch Haniger followed with a walk, continuing the pattern of a spring where Buchter couldn’t find the zone, and after a Jay Bruce fly out, Fernando Rodney came in and quickly walked Edwin Encarnacion. He did get a routine grounder from Domingo Santana, but a poor flip by Marcus Semien to start what would have been a double play left the A’s with just one out, and gave the Mariners the lead.
Oakland (0-2) went down in order against Hunter Strickland in the bottom of the inning, with Domingo Santana, the hero of the first game of the series, tracking down Jurickson Profar’s fly ball to the wall to end the game.
It was a game in which the A’s never led, though they sure had their share of chances. Khris Davis tied the game in the seventh with a two-run single up the middle, but he struck out on three pitches against Zac Rosscup in the bottom of the 11th with two outs and the bases loaded.
Rosscup ended up as the winning pitcher after Gordon scored the go-ahead run. The other Mariner reliever to make a huge impact was Matt Festa over the ninth and 10th. Blake Treinen was similarly effective for Oakland, retiring all six batters he faced, including four by strikeout.
Surprisingly, Treinen was lifted after just 22 pitches despite the A’s not playing another meaningful game for a week. Liam Hendriks got through the 11th, erasing a leadoff walk by getting Ryon Healy to ground into a double play, but Buchter and Rodney couldn’t escape the 12th.
The Mariners jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Marco Estrada, who allowed three runs over five innings. Healy hit a two-run homer on a hanging curve in the second and Haniger added on with a solo shot in the third.
Oakland would answer against Yusei Kikuchi, a native of Japan making his MLB debut in his home country, knocking the southpaw out in the fifth inning. As they did throughout their run to the playoffs last year, the A’s quickly got the pitch count up, seeing 23 pitches from Kikuchi before he left with two outs and a run home on a Semien RBI single. An error by Jay Bruce on a Matt Chapman grounder let a second run score, and though a Bruce sac fly against Joakim Soria put Seattle back up two in the top of the seventh, the A’s tied it when Davis delivered against Dan Altavilla in the bottom of the inning.
Altavilla had come on in relief of Roenis Elias, who continued a disturbing trend that had persisted over the last few years for Oakland. Long relievers have often shut the A’s down, whether it’s Boston’s Hector Velazquez, any of the various pitchers the Los Angeles Angels have sent to the mound or a former starter like Elias. He got three swings and misses from Stephen Piscotty to end the fifth, worked around a Chad Pinder double in the sixth and got the first two outs of the seventh before a Semien single and Chapman walk forced manager Scott Servais to bring in Altavilla, who walked Piscotty and yielded the game-tying single to Semien.
After Lou Trivino worked around a double from Tim Beckham, who was a pain in the A’s side throughout the abbreviated series, Ichiro made his final departure, leaving the game before the bottom of the eighth to a standing ovation from the crowd of 46,451.
Almost an hour-and-a-half later, it was Ichiro’s Mariners who were 2-0, doing just enough to gain the edge in the sort of game that the A’s might look back on when the season ends if they find themselves once again looking up at the Houston Astros in the standings.
Perhaps the worst long-term effect of Thursday’s game was an injury to Matt Olson, who left the game after singling and eventually scoring in the bottom of the fifth inning. After the game, it was revealed that he had soreness in his right hand and struggled to grip the bat, the sort of symptoms that often align with hamate bone injuries. On a day where it was revealed that stellar left-handed prospect Jesus Luzardo would be shut down with a shoulder injury, damage to the Gold Glove first baseman was one of the last things Oakland needed.