SEATTLE -- A Mariners team that has lived off the long ball all season stayed alive for another day by blasting four home runs in a 5-1 victory over the A's on Friday at Safeco Field, putting themselves just a game back of Toronto in the American League Wild Card chase with two games to go.
Robinson Canó hit two homers and Nelson Cruz and Norichika Aoki each added another as Seattle jumped on Oakland rookie right-hander Raúl Alcántara for five runs off four blasts in the first three innings.
"I love this kind of situation," said Cano, who now has 38 homers and 100 RBIs. "It's every kid's dream come true. When you get into baseball, you want to be able to play for October. You don't want to just play 162 games and pack your bags."
The Mariners have won 16 of their last 22 games to go a season-high 12 over .500 at 86-74 with two games to go against Oakland, which has lost 10 of its last 11 and sits last in the AL West at 67-93.
With the Blue Jays losing, 5-3, at Boston, Seattle moved to one game behind Toronto and two back of Baltimore in the chase for the two Wild Card berths, with Detroit a half-game ahead of the Mariners as well. The Orioles moved into the No. 1 Wild Card spot with an 8-1 win over the Yankees, while the Tigers topped Atlanta, 6-2.
"We're still breathing," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "We needed somebody to help us out a little today and we got a little help. But more importantly, we took care of business."
Seattle has the second-most home runs in the AL this season behind only the Orioles with 221, the fifth most in franchise history and most ever in the Safeco Field era. Their latest long-ball barrage provided plenty of support for Taijuan Walker, who allowed just one run in six innings on a leadoff homer by Ryon Healy in the sixth.
Walker gave up just two hits, though he walked five, as he improved to 8-11 with a 4.22 ERA. The 24-year-old right hander is 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA over his last five starts.
Alcantara, making the fifth start of his Major League career, gave up seven hits and five runs in two-plus innings as he fell to 1-3 with a 7.25 ERA. But Zach Neal relieved him and delivered five perfect innings before Daniel Coulombe added a 1-2-3 eighth as the A's retired the final 18 batters in order.
"[Neal] had two days off, pitched five innings, and nothing against a team that looked like it was going to score 30 runs," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I told him when he came out, 'You've come a long way.' You're always looking, in the position we're in right now, for silver linings, and he really has done a great job for us here recently."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Cano crushing (continued):: The seven-time All-Star seems intent on finishing up his season the way he started, by cranking home runs at a rapid rate. Cano has five homers in his past five games after adding a pair off Alcantara. He hit a two-run shot in the first, driving a 94 mph fastball over the fence in left-center on a shot projected at 406 feet by Statcast™, then added a 413-footer to dead center in the third. Cano hiked his career high to 38 homers, which broke Bret Boone's 2001 record of 37 for the most ever by a Seattle second baseman. More >
"The energy in our dugout at the beginning of the game was outstanding and obviously Robbie's [first] home run was huge, just to get things off on the right foot," Servais said.
Damage control: The right-handed Neal was one of few bright spots for the club, providing five scoreless innings following Alcantara's departure to keep them within striking distance. Neal was perfect, retiring all 15 batters he faced on just 58 pitches, striking out five and racking up eight ground-ball outs. The rookie pitcher has not allowed a run in six of his last seven outings, with just two scoring over 15 innings during that span, and he's certainly worked his way into conversations regarding next year's roster.
"I knew this last month would be a big month for me," said Neal, who joined Dennis Eckersley as the only two pitchers in Oakland history to pitch five perfect innings in relief. "It doesn't matter the situation, I'm going to pitch to my strengths, and I think keeping that in mind and remembering that every day is something that has helped."
No Vogt for you: Walker's only problem was the five walks he handed out and two of those came in the fifth, when the A's loaded the bases following an error on Cano. But the 24-year-old escaped that jam by getting Stephen Vogt to pop out to third baseman Kyle Seager on a well-located 94-mph heater. More >
"That was huge," Walker said. "Vogt is a really good hitter and I didn't want to give him anything. It looked like he was sitting fastball, so I had to really be careful with him and I was able to get him to pop it up."
Ailing offense: Scoring runs has been something of a chore for the A's of late, with two or fewer tallied in four of their first five games on this season-ending road trip. They had their chances Thursday, and again Friday, going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, after finishing 1-for-8 the night before. They mustered just two hits in their latest loss.
"That might be the longest hit ball of my career. I still can't believe it. Unbelievable." -- Aoki, on his fourth homer of the year and 28th of his five-year MLB career on a ball off the facade below the HIt It Here Cafe in right field
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Former A's reliever Evan Scribner pitched a 1-2-3 seventh for Seattle and has yet to allow a run in 13 1/3 innings since coming off the 60-day disabled list on Sept. 1 after missing the first five months with a strained lat muscle.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The umpires had to doublecheck Cruz's homer in the third to make sure it cleared the fence after the ball bounced back into the field of play following a leaping attempt by A's center fielder Jake Smolinski to haul it down. But after a 2-minute, 21-second look, Cruz was awarded the home run as replay officials could not definitively determine that the ball was brought back onto the field by Smolinski, nor that the ball failed to strike an area that was out of play. Therefore the home run call stood.
A's: Right-hander Jharel Cotton, who has allowed just one earned run in each of his first four big league starts, gets the ball in Saturday's 6:10 p.m. contest at Safeco Field. It will be his first career start against the Mariners.
Mariners:Hisashi Iwakuma (16-12, 3.96 ERA) makes his final regular-season start on Saturday, looking to extend Seattle's playoff bid. The 35-year-old right-hander has already set a new career high for wins, with a quarter of those coming against Oakland as he's 4-0 with a 3.12 ERA in four prior meetings this year.
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