Four innings of scoreless relief Saturday and a two-run bomb from Nelson Cruz bailed out a shaky Felix Hernandez and helped the Mariners win a series in Chicago for the first time in nearly a decade.
Cruz’s two-run homer in the sixth inning provided the Mariners with a 4-3 lead, which the bullpen protected over the final 12 outs against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“If you want to go to the playoffs,” Cruz said, “the bullpen is the key.”
The last time the Mariners won a series here on the South Side was Aug. 10-12, 2007. Prior to a 4-2 victory in Friday’s series opener, the Mariners were 7-28 at GRF, which was once known as U.S. Cellular Field.
Hernandez (5-3) got the victory, but this wasn’t vintage Felix. He lasted just five innings and, while only one of three runs he permitted was earned, he was in constant trouble — some of it caused by his own throwing error.
“It was a battle the whole game,” he said. “I couldn’t find my rhythm. I battled my mechanics. I was all over the place. I don’t remember the last time I hit the same guy (Jose Abreu) twice in a game.”
Even so, Hernandez handed a 4-3 lead to Steve Cishek, who also had a throwing error while wobbling through the sixth inning before stranding runners at first and third.
Tony Zych and Nick Vincent then worked two quick innings, and Edwin Diaz retired the first two hitters in the ninth before things got sticky.
Melky Cabrera, who had four hits, grounded a single into right field, and Avisail Garcia drew a walk. That brought pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to the mound for a visit with Diaz prior to a matchup against Abreu.
Diaz ended the game with a strikeout for his 15th save in 18 opportunities.
“When Cabrera got the base-hit,” Diaz admitted, “I got a little bit excited with Garcia. Then the pitching coach came and talked to me, I calmed down and I made my pitches with Abreu. We got the strikeout.”
The Mariners had three scoreless innings from the bullpen in Friday’s victory and has a 2.67 ERA over the last 47 games.
“Running four guys in a row out there,” manager Scott Servais said, “it’s really hard to have all four on top of their game. But we needed it tonight, and they did it.”
It wasn’t all positive.
The Mariners had a season-high three errors, including those sloppy throws to first by Hernandez and Cishek. Jean Segura opened the game by running into an out at second base in trying to stretch a single into a double.
And Mitch Haniger is likely to miss a couple of days because of a bruised right index finger, which occurred when hit by a pitch on an attempted bunt.
Even so, the Mariners (45-47) have two victories to start the second half and a chance for a three-game sweep in Sunday’s series finale.
“We’ve been getting good pitching,” Cruz said, “and when you get good pitching, you don’t have to score that many score that many runs.”
Cabrera gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead when he opened the first inning by jumping a high 3-1 fastball for 420-foot homer to right field.
The Mariners got even on Kyle Seager’s one-out homer in the second inning against Chicago starter Mike Pelfrey, a 409-foot drive that stayed just fair down the right-field line.
An error by Segura on Adam Engel’s leadoff grounder to short in the Chicago third inning led to another run. Engel stole second and went to third on a wild pitch before Cabrera flicked an RBI single into right.
Chicago returned the gift in the fifth inning when shortstop Tim Anderson botched Danny Valencia’s leadoff grounder. Valencia moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on Mitch Haniger’s grounder to third.
Pelfrey retired Jarrod Dyson on a fly to short right, but Chooch Ruiz grounded an RBI single through the left side.
Hernandez’s error came later in the inning after Cabrera led off with a single and went to second when Ruiz boxed a pitch for a passed ball.
Garcia’s squibber to the mound should resulted in an out, but Hernandez lolly-popped an offline throw to first and put the ball into the runner. The result was an error that put runners at second and third.
When Hernandez hit Abreu with a pitch for the second time in the game, the White Sox had the bases loaded with no outs.
Chicago settled for one run.
Cabrera scored when Frazier grounded into a double play before Hernandez ended the inning by striking out Saladino.
That escape permitted the Mariners to take their first lead at when Cruz hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning against reliever Anthony Swarzak (4-3).
PLAY OF THE GAME: It took two great defensive plays to retire Haniger on a slow chop to the third base in the fifth inning.
Todd Frazier charged the ball and made a barehanded pickup and throw. But the throw was into the runner, which required Abreu to shift his feet at first, catch the ball, drag his foot across the base and avoid a collision.
PLUS: Cruz’s homer boosted his league-leading RBI total to 72. His 18th homer pulled him into a tie with Robinson Cano for the club lead…Segura went 2-for-4 for is sixth multi-hit effort in eight games. His average climbed to .352…Diaz had a 2.02 ERA over his past 21 appearances.
MINUS: Segura opened the game with a single to left but was thrown out by Cabrera in trying to stretch it into a double. Segura also had his eighth error of the season, which led to an unearned run…the throwing errors by Hernandez and Cishek came on basic throws to first base. Hernandez fielded a squibber, and Cishek was making a pickoff attempt;
STAT PACK: The White Sox were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
QUOTABLE: Hernandez on his throwing error: “I don’t know. Don’t ask me that. It looks terrible. It was my fault. It was bad. It was really bad.”
SHORT HOPS: Chicago manager Rick Renteria was ejected in the sixth inning by second-base umpire Tom Hallion, the crew chief. It appeared Hallion believed Anderson was entitled to two bases on Cishek’s throwing error. It was Renteria’s sixth ejection of the season. He didn’t go quietly.
ON DECK: The Mariners and White Sox conclude their three-game series at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Right-hander Andrew Moore (1-1 with a 3.86 ERA) will oppose Chicago left-hander Derek Holland (5-9, 5.01).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners