Felix Hernandez was sharp and Dee Gordon brilliant, but the biggest moment of the game for the surging Mariners came from the team’s biggest bat.
Nelson Cruz’s loud and towering two-out, three-run homer on the first pitch he saw in the fifth inning broke a taut tie and propelled Seattle to a 6-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.
The Mariners held on over the late innings for their third consecutive victory and sixth in their past seven.
“Nellie has a pretty good idea of what he’s looking for when he goes up there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Cruz. “Certainly, he was looking for a pitch. He got it, and he didn’t miss it.”
A’s right-hander Andrew Triggs kept Oakland in a 1-1 deadlock through four innings, but things unraveled in the fifth. Cruz hammered Triggs’ first pitch, a slider, over the fence in left-center to give Seattle a lead they would not relinquish.
“Just one pitch, bad pitch,” Triggs said. “You can’t give them too many chances. It’s frustrating.”
Cruz was not the only player frustrating the A’s on Tuesday. Gordon, the Mariners’ leadoff man, went five for five with two stolen bases, becoming the third player in Mariners history to record four hits in back-to-back games.
Hernandez (4-2) was in vintage form, twirling six innings and giving up three runs on three hits while striking out seven to tie a season high and walking four.
Entering the game, Hernandez had a 2.61 career ERA versus the A’s. Afterward, Hernandez was asked about the secret to his success against the A’s. He laughed and knocked a few times on the wooden set of drawers in his locker.
“I don’t know,” Hernandez said. “I have no idea why. I just go out and compete every day.”
Servais had some ideas. He mentioned the recent improvement in Hernandez’s curveball, which makes his changeup better. Hernandez struck out A’s slugger Khris Davis twice on changeups.
Solid defense, including two double plays, helped the Mariners’ cause. So did Gordon, who has 11 hits in his past three games.
“We talk about all the power and the home runs and the strikeouts and how the game is changing a little bit, but it still goes to show you [the value of] putting the bat on the ball, what the speed can do,” Servais said. “It’s really fun to watch.”
Jed Lowrie gave Oakland a 1-0 lead in the first inning with his seventh home run, but the Mariners answered in the second. After Kyle Seager led off with a ground-rule double, Mike Zunino lined a game-tying double out of the reach of A’s left fielder Matt Joyce to knot the game at 1-1.
Triggs and Hernandez traded scoreless innings until the pivotal bottom of the fifth. Gordon legged out a one-out infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, and Jean Segura worked a walk.
After Robinson Cano flied out to the wall in right-center field, Cruz did not waste any time changing the momentum of the game, connecting on his 410-foot shot.
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