Somehow, the Mariners are still kicking.
After nearly wasting a vintage Felix Hernandez effort, after watching their rookie phenom Edwin Diaz serve up a game-tying homer in the ninth inning, after dodging Toronto threats in the 10th and 11th innings …
And after 4 hours, 24 minutes in front of another partisan Toronto crowd at Safeco Field, the Mariners pumped new life into their long-shot postseason quest by pulling out a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays in 12 innings.
“That was a great win for us,” said Robinson Cano, who delivered a game-winning sacrifice fly Wednesday. “Thank God, we won it. Let’s put it that way. They came back and tied it. …
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
It was anything but easy. In the end, though, the game turned on two defensive misplays by Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson, the American League’s reigning MVP.
First, Donaldson threw wildly to first after fielding Guillermo Heredia’s soft leadoff grounder in the 12th inning against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, a starter forced into the game as the 10th Blue Jays pitcher.
That put Heredia on second.
Toronto tried for an out at third base on Ben Gamel’s bunt, and the throw by first baseman Ryan Goins beat Heredia – but Donaldson couldn’t hold the ball.
“I thought it was a risky play (to try for third),” Heredia admitted, “but I felt I had to do it. When I was at second base, I made up my mind that if (Gamel) bunted the ball on the ground, I was going to go to third base.”
Cano then sent a drive to deep left field for a game-winning sacrifice fly.
“We made a couple of mistakes in extra innings,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “When you do that, that’s what generally happens in extra-inning games.”
The victory enabled the Mariners to avoid a three-game sweep by Toronto and pulled them to within two games of Baltimore in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth with 10 games to play.
It’s more complicated than that. The Mariners must also leap past Houston and Detroit to get to Baltimore, and they are just a half-game ahead of the New York Yankees.
But this was a step in the right direction.
It started with Hernandez, who was magnificent in permitting two hits over seven innings before handing a 1-0 lead to the bullpen.
“First of all, we lost the first two games of the series,” he said. “I knew I had to step up my game. I went out there with a lot of confidence. I know the hitters. I followed (catcher Jesus) Sucre the whole game. He did a great job.
“Everything was working. I was throwing a lot of strikes.”
The Mariners were two outs away from a 1-0 victory when Diaz served up a game-tying homer to Jose Bautista in the ninth inning.
When Diaz came with a 98-mph fastball on a 2-2 pitch, Bautista turned and drove it high and deep to left. The only question was whether the ball would stay fair.
And after a muted bat flip, Bautista circled the bases as the Blue Jays-dominant crowd of 39,595 at Safeco Field erupted in celebration. It was Diaz’s second blown save in 18 chances.
“He hit that ball pretty good,” Diaz said. “I missed that location. I tried to go down and away, but I missed in the middle. That’s part of the game. But we battled and got the win.”
Both clubs had chances in extra innings before Heredia scored the winner. The Mariners now have an open date Thursday before resuming their push with three weekend games at Minnesota.
“It was fun,” Hernandez said. “Not just for me but for the whole team.”
Play(s) of the game: Two stood out, and both came off the bat of Kevin Pillar.
In the fifth inning, right fielder Seth Smith protected a 1-0 lead by running down Pillar’s two-out drive with a leaping catch. The Blue Jays had a runner on first at the time, and he would have scored easily.
Even bigger was a diving catch by shortstop Mike Freeman in the 10th inning. The Blue Jays, with the score 1-1, had a runner at third base with one out when Pillar hit a liner to the left side.
The Mariners had their infield playing in, but Freeman reacted by making a diving catch for the second out. Reliever Evan Scribner then ended the inning by striking out Devon Travis.
“The play was there for me to make,” Freeman said, “and I had just enough to make the play.”
Quotable: “I’ve never seen so many Blue Jays’ fans in Seattle,” Hernandez said. “That was unbelievable. It was the smallest King’s Court I’ve ever seen. I could never hear the King’s Court.
“I knew I had to step it up a little more because this is my house.”