5-run 1st lifts Mariners to open crucial set vs. A's

August 31st, 2018

OAKLAND -- A struggling Mariners offense found a fortunate time for a breakout as Seattle rolled to a 7-1 victory over the A's on Thursday behind seven scoreless innings from in the opener of a crucial four-game series at the Coliseum.

The Mariners hadn't scored more than four runs in any of their previous four games, but tallied five in the first inning against Oakland right-hander Frankie Montas. Seattle snapped a three-game losing streak and reduced the A's lead to 4 1/2 games in the race for the second American League Wild Card berth with 28 games remaining.

With the AL West-leading Astros losing to the Angels, the A's remain 2 1/2 back in the division, with the Mariners still holding out hope at seven games back. The Mariners are 8-5 against the A's this year and face them six more times, including three more games this weekend.

"Everyone understands what is at stake," Mariners first baseman said. "There's really no denying where we're at and what this series means. But it doesn't benefit anyone to walk in here tight or tense, worrying about those big-picture things instead of just focusing like we did today, just taking care of one pitch at a time and letting the game results take care of themselves."

The lopsided victory was a rarity for a Seattle club that has lived on the edge all year. It was the first time in the Mariners' last 15 wins that closer didn't pitch, dating back to an 8-2 win over the White Sox on July 22.

LeBlanc kept the A's off-balance with his offspeed array for seven innings as he improved to 8-3 with a 3.71 ERA. The 34-year-old allowed three hits with three walks and four strikeouts while equaling his season high of 98 pitches.

"I wasn't as sharp as the last game, wasn't as crisp," LeBlanc said. "But when you have a guy like [catcher Mike Zunino] back there and an offense putting up runs like that, it makes it kind of easy to go out there and be aggressive and miss over the plate, as opposed to being overly careful. You can throw first-pitch strikes and let the defense work."

Pitching and defense, two staples of the A's second-half run, betrayed them early as Montas -- called up from Triple-A earlier in the day to replace the injured -- gave up three unearned runs during the five-run first following a throwing error by normally stellar third baseman on a bases-loaded grounder by Zunino.

An RBI single by Healy and a bases-loaded walk by Ben Gamel accounted for Seattle's first two runs before Chapman's two-out miscue allowed two more to score. Chapman then momentarily bobbled a grounder from Dee Gordon, allowing the Seattle speedster to beat out an infield single that scored Gamel for a 5-0 lead.

"I feel like when we had a really good stretch of the season, we were getting on the board early and often," Healy said. "It's nice to be the aggressor."

Mitch Haniger added a solo homer in the fourth -- his 23rd of the season -- to continue his torrid August. Haniger went 2-for-5 and is batting .351 (40-for-114) with five home runs in 27 games this month. He's tied for seventh in the AL with 84 RBIs.

"He's really been outstanding," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "It kind of rejuvenated his season when we put him in the leadoff spot, and it's been great to see. He's a real threat at the top of the lineup, and the quality of the at-bats every night has been really consistent and it's great for him."


Late addition fuels rally: Healy, who wasn't originally in the lineup, kick-started the Mariners' five-run first with his two-out, bases-loaded single to left against his former A's team. Healy started at first after shortstop was scratched about 90 minutes before first pitch with a bruised left shin that didn't heal enough from the previous night to let him play. The Mariners moved Gordon to short and shifted from first to second base, allowing Healy to play first and deliver a 2-for-4 night against the club that traded him to Seattle last November.

"Big hit," Servais said. "He was ready to play. He likes playing here. Obviously, he's used to playing here and against his old buddies over there."


Cano laced a double down the left-field line in the first for his 526th career double, tying him with Dave Parker for 44th on MLB's all-time list. Hall of Famers Cap Anson and Frank Robinson are tied for 42nd with 528.


"Whether it's the A's or somebody else, every game is big at this point. You want to finish strong. That's the goal, if you ask anybody in here, to finish strong individually and as a team. Nobody is going to lie and say they're not aware of the fact Oakland is ahead of us. You want to go out and beat these guys, but at the same time, you want to beat everybody." -- LeBlanc, on the race for the postseason


Mike Leake (8-8, 4.03 ERA) opposes A's right-hander Mike Fiers (10-6, 3.15) in Friday's 7:05 p.m. PT game at the Coliseum. Leake has been Seattle's most consistent starter, but the righty hasn't won a game since June 23, going 0-4 with a 3.90 ERA over his last 10 starts. One of those outings was eight scoreless innings with only two hits allowed at Oakland in a win on Aug. 15.