LoMo, Felix put Mariners a game out of WC
Late homer follows ace's 11-K scoreless gem against Angels
ANAHEIM -- Felix Hernandez has never pitched in the playoffs in his 10-year career, but The King would like to do something about that. And if he gets there this year, he might need to thank Logan Morrison.
Morrison saved the day -- and just maybe the Mariners' postseason hopes -- with a three-run blast to right field in the top of the ninth Thursday night as the Mariners rallied for a 3-1 win over the Angels to pull back within one game of an American League Wild Card spot with 10 games remaining.
"That was one of the biggest hits, if not the biggest hit, of my life," said Morrison, the first baseman acquired from the Marlins last winter. "It was awesome. Words can't describe what I'm feeling right now."
Morrison's ninth home run of the season ended a scoreless duel that saw Hernandez pitch seven innings of three-hit ball against a backup Angels crew, with Seattle unable to counter against fill-in starter Wade LeBlanc and the Halos bullpen until the final frame.
"This was a big game for us," a relieved Hernandez said. "LoMo came through. Every day we've got different guys stepping up."
Fernando Rodney came on to record his club-record 46th save, but only after giving up a one-out home run to Hank Conger to cut the lead to 3-1 and then dropping a ball on a throw to first that allowed the potential tying run to come to the plate.
"They all count," manager Lloyd McClendon said after surviving another Rodney adventure. "People ask you, 'How was your flight?' If it landed, it was a good flight."
The Mariners will have an even better flight of their own as they head to Houston with an 82-70 record, having achieved a 2-2 split against the Angels to start a tough 11-game road trip that will go a long way toward determining whether they can land their first playoff berth since 2001.
But they had to dig deep to win the finale against an Angels squad that won't be recognizable once the postseason begins. Having clinched their first AL West title since 2009 on Wednesday night and then celebrating into the early hours of the morning, the Angels scratched ace Jered Weaver and opened with the journeyman LeBlanc and a lineup of reserves -- with only designated hitter C.J. Cron and catcher Conger having played with any frequency this season.
The Mariners struggled again offensively until the ninth, but Hernandez efficiently took care of his business. The no-decision leaves his record at 14-5, but he lowered his AL-leading ERA to 2.07. The 28-year-old struck out 11 batters, hiking his season total to a career-high 236 with two potential regular-season starts remaining.
Seattle scored just one run against an Angels starter in the four-game series, though they pulled off a big rally against the Halos' bullpen in Tuesday's 13-2 win and did the same in the finale.
LeBlanc pitched most of this season in Triple-A and was 0-1 with a 6.88 ERA in eight appearances (one start) with the Yankees and Angels prior to getting the late call Thursday. But Seattle managed just three hits off the 30-year-old Louisiana native in 5 1/3 scoreless innings before manager Mike Scioscia pulled him after 72 pitches.
"I don't think anybody was letting off," Morrison said of facing the Angels' reserves. "If anything, we were pushing too hard. We just have to relax a little bit and let the game come to us and we'll be fine. We have a bunch of guys here who have done it before and we'll do it again. Just have our pitching and defense keep doing what it's doing and keep us in the game and we'll come through."
The Mariners had just three hits in the first eight frames, but Kendrys Morales singled with two out in the ninth and pinch-runner James Jones went to second after drawing an errant pickoff throw by Kevin Jepsen. The Halos then intentionally walked Kyle Seager before Morrison unloaded on a 1-1 offering.
Morrison went 2-for-4 on the night and 5-for-10 in the series to hike his batting average to .251 with 33 RBIs as he's taken over the starting first-base job at midseason.
"He's gotten better," McClendon said. "He's starting to do what we've asked him to do and that's drive in runs. Everybody talks about hitting streaks, but I'm not concerned with hitting streaks. I'm concerned with RBIs and runs scored, and he's starting to do that and that's nice to see."
Meanwhile, Oakland continued its struggles with a 7-2 loss to Texas, dropping the A's into the second AL Wild Card, a half-game behind idle Kansas City as they lost for the 25th time in their last 36 games. The Mariners pulled to within a game of the A's as they improved to 9-7 on the year against the Angels, the team the winner of the AL Wild Card Game will face in a Division Series if the Halos maintain the best record in the league.
But these Angels weren't the same squad that will be playing in October, or even next week when the Mariners close out their regular season against them at Safeco Field. Weaver will start the first game of that three-game set on Friday, and Scioscia will likely play his regulars to keep them sharp before the ALDS begins Thursday, Oct. 2 in Anaheim.
The win improved the Mariners' road record to 44-30, tied for fourth-most road wins in a season in franchise history, with seven games remaining on a trek that will conclude in Houston and Toronto.