By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — The latest series between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners began with three wild evenings, full of mammoth first-inning rallies and spirited comeback attempts. Sunday’s finale was a tidier affair, as the A’s cruised to an 8-2 victory to salvage a split of the four games and maintain their healthy lead in the Wild Card standings.
On Thursday and Friday, Frankie Montas and Mike Fiers each allowed more runs than innings pitched, and on Saturday they opted to let the bullpen cover nearly the entire contest. Edwin Jackson fared much better, working six sparkling innings and allowing just one run and five total baserunners.
“I would say this is probably one of the biggest wins that we’ve had all season,” said Jackson.
With the series split, the Mariners ultimately didn’t gain any ground on the 82-56 A’s, whose Wild Card lead stays right where it started at 5 1/2 games. The Houston Astros will be in action Sunday night, with their division lead standing at two games before they begin play.
“Certain times, a split feels a little bit better than others,” manager Bob Melvin said. “This is one of them.”
On the eve of Monday’s ALS Awareness Day, co-hosted by the A’s and the visiting New York Yankees, it was appropriately Stephen Piscotty who provided the majority of the offense, slugging two home runs and driving in a career-high five runs. He also contributed with the glove, making a nifty sliding catch in the outfield to steal a hit from Robinson Cano and help thwart a chance at a Seattle rally in the third.
After the Mariners pulled ahead 1-0, Piscotty tied things up with a solo shot in the fifth. He added a sacrifice fly in the four-run sixth, and hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Since June 1, Piscotty is hitting .282 (84-for-298) with 18 home runs, 24 doubles and 49 RBIs in 79 games.
“Really since the first month and a half of the season he’s just been a beast in the middle of the order,” Melvin said. “That (second homer) was hit a long way. The sac fly was big. The home run to get it to 1-1. Everything he did today were really important at-bats.”
The game started off as a pitcher’s duel between Jackson and Felix Hernandez. It was the 51st time Hernandez had faced the A’s dating back to 2005, with a lifetime 2.71 ERA against them entering the day, and even though he’s having the worst year of his amazing career, he’s still an intimidating presence. By the end of the fifth inning the score was knotted at 1-1.
Seattle jumped out to an early lead in the first inning on an RBI single by Nelson Cruz, but Jackson settled down and was untouchable the rest of the way. He didn’t allow another hit after that first inning, retiring 15 of his final 17 batters over his next five frames. In each of his previous two outings, Jackson had failed to get out of the fifth, allowing a total of 11 hits and six earned runs in nine innings.
“It’s all mental, man,” Jackson said. “It’s just a mental approach. You have to go out, and every game you’ve gotta know you can get the job done. It doesn’t necessarily work out like that all the time, but you have to keep that approach.”
Melvin was especially pleased to get a long effort from his starter after leaning so heavily on his bullpen in recent games.
“To get to six (innings), that was important too,” said Melvin. “I know we have 100 guys down there (in the bullpen), but we used quite a few of them last night and we were in a position to use our plus guys today.”
Piscotty broke Hernandez’s spell with his 20th home run of the season in the fifth, making him the fifth Oakland player to reach that mark this year, tying a franchise record from last summer.
The game-breaking rally in the sixth started with each of the first five A’s to step to the plate reaching base. Chad Pinder singled and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce walked to set the scene, and then Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, and Jed Lowrie each poked singles to drive in three total runs. Piscotty later capped the inning with a sac fly.
For Joyce, it was his first plate appearance since July 4. After struggling early in the year and then missing most of the summer to a back injury, he wasted no time finding a way to contribute at a moment’s notice by reaching base against Hernandez.
“He hasn’t had too many at-bats, he’s been hurt,” said Melvin. “I don’t know if he can be out there for multiple days in a row right now. I was speaking to him today about, ‘Your role right now is probably going to be that pinch-hit,’ and he did that really well today. A walk’s as good as a hit in that situation, and he didn’t try to chase.”
The A’s added some insurance in the eighth, as Piscotty drilled his second homer of the day, this time a three-run shot, giving him his first multi-homer game of the season and tying his career-high with five RBI.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects in Oakland’s bullpen took care of business after Jackson’s departure. Lou Trivino, Fernando Rodney and Blake Treinen combined to cover the final three innings, with Rodney allowing one run — his first as an Athletic after throwing 11 scoreless innings.