OAKLAND -- On the day Robinson Cano returned to the Mariners, Felix Hernandez made his own comeback as well. But that didn't stop the surging A's, who beat Seattle, 3-2, to clinch a series victory between the two American League playoff contenders at the Coliseum.
In his first game back from an 80-game suspension for testing positive to a banned substance, Cano went 1-for-4 and played a flawless game at first base, his first time at that position in his 14-year Major League career.
Hernandez's return was less expected as he was brought in from the bullpen for the first time in his own 14-year career, replacing James Paxton after the Mariners starter took a Jed Lowrie line drive off his left forearm with one out in the first inning.
Hernandez lost his rotation role after going 8-10 with a 5.73 ERA in 23 starts, but pitched well in his first appearance in seven days. The veteran right-hander wound up throwing 5 2/3 innings while allowing five hits with two runs -- both on a Lowrie home run in the third -- with two walks and two strikeouts on 87 pitches.
"It was weird," said Hernandez, who had made 398 career starts before this first relief outing. "I just tried to throw as many pitches as I could to get loose. It was a little different. But I'm a professional, so I had to do my job and I did it."
Paxton was diagnosed with a bruised left forearm after X-rays showed no broken bones, which was good news for the Mariners after seeing their No. 1 starter led off the field in pain. Manager Scott Servais said the lefty will certainly miss at least one start, however, and Paxton compared it to a similar incident in 2016 that sidelined him 2 1/2 weeks.
Chances are, Hernandez will slide into Paxton's slot in the rotation, which would mean facing the Astros next Monday at Safeco Field.
"I think so," Servais said. "You have to look at the options we have. I've said all along he could end up back in the rotation. I was hoping it wouldn't be something like this. But he certainly stepped up tonight. When Felix is throwing strikes at the bottom of the strike zone and competing like that, he'll get good results."
Servais was breathing a sigh of relief that Paxton wasn't hurt more seriously. But the news wasn't as good in the standings as Seattle dropped to 3 1/2 games back of the A's for the second American League Wild Card position at 69-52 with their second straight one-run setback,
Combined with an Astros' loss to the Rockies, the A's find themselves just a game back of Houston for the AL West lead after going 38-12 since June 16.
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Mitch Haniger led off the first with a double and scored on Nelson Cruz's broken-bat single to right, while Cameron Maybin hit his first home run in 12 games with Seattle on a solo shot in the fifth.
But the A's countered with a solo homer by Marcus Semien leading off the game against Paxton and Lowrie's two-run shot off Hernandez. Oakland made that stand with the strong pitching and defense that has helped turn the A's into one of baseball's biggest surprises this season.
Oakland catcher Jonathan Lucroy made a perfect throw to catch Dee Gordon trying to steal second in the eighth, and third baseman Matt Chapman followed with an excellent catch over the tarp down the left-field line to get Cano in his final at-bat.
"You have to give them credit," Servais said. "They made the plays tonight. They did enough to win the ballgame. Good baseball game. Two teams out ether playing very well. Runs and opportunities were hard to come by. They got it done."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Paxton gave up the leadoff homer to Semien and then struck out Chapman before being nailed by Lowrie's line drive, a 96-mph shot that caught the southpaw on his left forearm. Paxton began chasing down the ball as it caromed toward the first-base line, then shut it down and began pacing in pain near the mound before being escorted off. The 29-year-old has spent a good chunk of his career on the disabled list due to a litany of injury issues, but had missed just one outing this season and was making his career-high-tying 24th start of the season.
"I saw it coming and tried to get my glove over, but then just had to brace myself," Paxton said. "I was falling off the mound toward the third-base side, and I just had to turn and take it."
Hernandez had made 398 career starts before his first relief appearance. The only pitcher to make more starts before a relief outing in Major League history was Mike Mussina with 498.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Maybin hadn't had an extra-base hit in his first 11 games with the Mariners, but the new center fielder -- acquired last month from the Marlins -- went deep with his solo shot off Mike Fiers leading off the fifth. The home run, projected at 389 feet by Statcast™, was the fourth of the season for Maybin and he now has a nine-game hitting streak for the Mariners.
HE SAID IT
"Robbie looks very comfortable anywhere you put him on a baseball field. He handled all the chances. You look at how he'd react to different throws, but no there's no panic in Robinson Cano. There's no doubt about that. I think the more he plays, the more comfortable he'll get at all the different positions. So good first night back." -- Servais, on Cano's first career game at first base
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Gordon led off the eighth with a single and then tried to get into scoring position, but was caught stealing on a perfect throw from Lucroy. The Mariners challenged the ruling on the field, but the call stood after a 2-minute, 21-second review. Gordon's sprint speed was 30.0 feet/second, per Statcast™, which is elite level. But Lucroy managed a 1.93-second poo time on the throw, which is below the MLB average of 2.01 seconds and just enough to nail Seattle's speedster.
"I thought the play of the game was the caught stealing," Servais said. "Lucroy made an unbelievable throw on Dee and put the ball probably the only place he could have been out. You have to give them credit. They made the plays tonight. Dee Gordon leads the league in steals for a reason. He got a good jump. If that ball was a foot in any other direction, he's safe. You have to give them credit. They made the plays tonight."
Mike Leake (8-7, 4.11 ERA) closes out the series against A's lefty Brett Anderson (2-3, 4.53) on Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. PT. Leake hasn't won a game since June 23, but hasn't received a lot of help either as he's gone 0-3 with a 4.11 ERA over his past eight starts. He has two no-decisions vs. Oakland this year with a 2.84 ERA.