Here’s a warm thought on a warm weekend in the Pacific Northwest as the Mariners prepare to head into the final six weeks of their schedule:
Felix Hernandez is starting to look a lot like the King. He worked eight dominant innings Saturday in an 8-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Safeco Field.
This was Hernandez’s seventh start since returning from an eight-week absence because of a strained right calf muscle. He appeared headed toward a shutout before a defensive misplay with two outs in the eighth inning.
His final line showed two runs and seven hits in eight innings before the Mariners turned to Steve Cishek, just back from the disabled list, to close out their 14th victory in 18 games.
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Hernandez is 8-4 overall, including 4-0 in seven starts since returning from the disabled list. He is on a run of three straight quality starts while allowing five runs in his last 21 2/3 innings.
The Mariners closed to within one game of Baltimore in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
They scored single runs in the second and fifth innings against Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta on RBI hits from Nori Aoki.
The Mariners then built their lead to 4-0 and knocked out Peralta (5-9) when Mike Zunino and Leonys Martin started the seventh inning with back-to-back home runs.
Hernandez lost his shutout in the eighth inning when right fielder Shawn O’Malley, just inserted for defensive purposes, misplayed a catchable two-out drive by Ryan Braun into an RBI double.
That non-catch cost another run when Hernan Perez followed with an RBI single before Hernandez ended the inning by striking out Chris Carter.
The Mariners answered those two runs by scoring four times in the bottom of the eighth.
Robinson Cano led off with a double and scored on a throwing error by second baseman Scooter Gennett, who tried to get Cano at third after fielding Nelson Cruz’s grounder.
Kyle Seager drew a walk. Adam Lind hit an RBI double that hopped the center-field wall, and Zunino followed with a two-run double. That quickly, the lead was up to six runs.
The Mariners opened the scoring after Martin started the third inning with a walk and stole second. He moved to third on Ketel Marte’s grounder to short and scored on Aoki’s single to right.
Aoki’s third hit of the game, a one-out double in the fifth inning, extended the lead to 2-0. Ketel Marte scored all the way from first base when the ball kicked off an angle in the wall up the third-base line.
The Mariners doubled the lead to 4-0 when Zunino and Martin started the seventh inning with back-to-back homers. Zunino hit a 431-foot drive to the left of dead center, and Martin followed with a 419-foot laser to center field.
Hernandez pitched around Gennett’s one-out double in the first inning, thanks in large part to a diving stop by third baseman Seager on Braun’s sharp grounder. Seager turned it into the second out.
Aoki was doubled off second base later in the inning after a leadoff double. He couldn’t get back to second on Seth Smith’s soft liner to first before Hernan Perez threw to shortstop Orlando Arcia.
The Brewers got a leadoff double in the second inning from Carter, a missile into the right-center gap, but Hernandez retired the next three batters.
Leading 1-0, the Mariners missed a chance to pad their lead after Nelson Cruz opened the fourth with a double. Peralta retired the next three batters.
PLAY OF THE GAME: The Mariners executed a successful appeal play to end the second inning by noticing Jonathan Villar did not retouch second base before retreating to first on Gennett’s deep fly to left.
Hernandez stepped off the mound before delivering a pitch to Braun and threw to second baseman Cano. Umpire Chad Fairchild signaled the out.
STAT PACK: The consecutive homers by Zunino and Martin in the seventh inning marked the fourth time this season that the Mariners hit back-to-back home runs.
The others: Dae-Ho Lee and Seager in the fourth inning on June 10 vs. Texas; Chris Iannetta and Martin in the fifth inning on June 23 at Detroit; and Seager and Lee in the fourth inning on July 6 at Houston.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners