This 5-0 victory over Texas was almost bittersweet for the Seattle Mariners because it points to what might have been.
Felix Hernandez pitched eight dominant innings, and Nelson Cruz hit his 40th homer in a glorious Thursday matinee at Safeco Field. It was tight, crisp and clean.
The way the season was supposed to go and, too often, hasn’t.
“We won,” Cruz said. “That’s the good thing. We’ve got a lot of games to go. Hopefully, we can continue what we’re doing and pick up some ground.”
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Well … we’ll get to the math in a moment. For now, let’s take the positives — and they were notable.
Hernandez improved to 17-8 by limiting the Rangers to three hits before Tom Wilhelmsen closed out the Mariners’ second consecutive combined shutout in a non-save situation.
Vidal Nuno and two relievers held the Rangers to one hit Wednesday in a 6-0 victory.
“I was keeping the ball down with the sinker,” Hernandez said. “My change-up was good today, too. I’m throwing it down. Before, it was up and not moving at all.”
This makes back-to-back strong starts for Hernandez since the Mariners opted to skip him on one cycle through their rotation in hopes of freshening him for the final month.
“He’s better,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He was better last year when we did it. He had his best September ever.”
The Mariners never actually skipped Hernandez a year ago, but they did give him extra days of rest on a few occasions. Whatever the reason, he was in top form.
“Every game we face him is a tough game,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said. “He’s tough on everyone really. We got down early, too.”
The Mariners jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Mark Trumbo’s two-run double against Rangers starter Derek Holland, who permitted nothing further until a three-run seventh.
Cruz returned to the lineup after a six-game absence because a strained right quadriceps muscle — and he was a factor. His single ignited the two-run first, and his two-run homer capped the seventh.
“I was pretty sure I could hit a fastball,” he said. “The only concern was about a breaking pitch. When I got that hit in my first at-bat (on a slider), it was a relief. I knew I could see the breaking pitches.”
As for the math:
The victory enabled the Mariners to split the four-game series and climb back to five games of .500 at 68-73 after winning for the ninth time in 13 games.
They are six games behind Texas, with 21 games remaining, for the American League’s final wild-card berth. There are also four clubs between them and the Rangers.
It’s a steep hill, but this was a step in the right direction.
The Mariners struck for two, two-out runs in the first inning against Holland (3-2) after Cruz grounded a single into center field.
Cruz went to third on Robinson Cano’s double to left, and both runners scored when Trumbo sliced a double into right field. The double extended Trumbo’s career-best hitting streak to 12 games.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Trumbo said. “(Holland) is aggressive. Especially early in the game, he’s coming at you. I figured why not try to counter that with a little bit of aggression on my side.”
It stayed 2-0 until the seventh.
Jesus Sucre led off with a double on a drive the bounced over the right-field wall. He went to third on Shawn O’Malley’s sacrifice. With the Texas infield shortened, Ketel Marte drove a single up the middle for a 3-0 lead.
One out later, Cruz drove a two-out homer to right.
FRIDAY: Colorado (RHP Chad Bettis: 6-5, 4.95 ERA) at Seattle (RHP Hisashi Iwakuma: 7-3, 4.03), 7:10 p.m., Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM