Seattle stays hot behind Smoak's three RBIs
Mariners use three-run first, four-run ninth to top first-place A's
OAKLAND -- The only thing better than the first inning on Tuesday night for the Mariners was the ninth.
After jumping out to an early lead against A's starter Jesse Chavez, Seattle buried Oakland with a four-run final frame to claim an 8-3 victory, the Mariners' ninth in 11 games. Justin Smoak picked up three RBIs to take the team lead with 20.
With the way the club is playing, that eight-game losing streak in mid-April seems long gone.
"If it doesn't kill us, it'll makes us stronger," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Our guys have bounced back pretty nice, and in the end they've figured out that those streaks happen and they're OK and they can play and they can compete. We're getting better. Not where we want to be, but I like the attitude and I like the approach."
It was just the latest in what's been a successful road trip for the Mariners, who are now 6-1 during their swing through the Bronx, Houston and Oakland. For the first time since since June 21, 2011, Seattle (16-15) holds a winning record after May 1.
Tuesday night's victory was the result of an opportunistic offense and rookie left-hander Roenis Elias figuring himself out as the night went on.
The Mariners set the tone early for the second straight evening, putting together a three-run first inning against Chavez after getting to Scott Kazmir early on Monday.
"It feels great," rookie James Jones said after going 2-for-5 in his first big league start. "Good team chemistry, everybody's working together and everybody's backing each other up."
Penciled into the No. 2 hole as the starting center fielder, Jones laced a single into right field in the first inning before coming around to score on a Chavez wild pitch. Smoak then made it 2-0 with a double down the left-field line to drive home Robinson Cano, setting up Dustin Ackley's RBI single two batters later.
Chavez (2-1, 2.47 ERA) suffered his first loss in seven starts this year after giving up another run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Mike Zunino. In all, he was charged with four earned runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out three.
"I would say he probably wasn't at his best tonight, stuff-wise," McClendon said. "But we still had pretty good at-bats and our thought process going in was pretty good."
Meanwhile, Chavez's counterpart, Elias, was tagged for two runs in the second but would settle down from there. Nick Punto made Elias pay for a wild pitch that put two runners in scoring position by singling up the middle to cut Oakland's deficit to 3-2.
Elias (3-2, 3.27 ERA) also gave up a solo home run to fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes in the sixth but finished 6 1/3 innings with six strikeouts, allowing three earned runs on five hits and three walks. McClendon said he didn't even know what Elias looked like when Spring Training started, but the 25-year-old has looked sharp in his past two outings, including his 10-strikeout gem at Yankee Stadium last week.
"I felt like I was a little erratic early," Elias said through a translator. "But I got my rhythm down and continued to go."
McClendon echoed his pitcher's sentiments, saying Elias was throwing his changeup too hard to start the game while the curveball wasn't getting enough bite. As for the A's, they came away impressed in their second meeting with Elias.
"He's got pretty good stuff," Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "He's got a quick arm, a good breaking ball and a lively fastball. We did a pretty good job against him, we just didn't cash in."
The A's were still within striking distance heading into the ninth, but a two-base throwing error from reliever Jim Johnson set the stage a four-run Seattle rally that put the game away.
Johnson threw the ball to Punto at first base trying to get Michael Saunders on a bunt, but the ball went into right field. From there, Corey Hart beat out a double play to drive in a run and extend the inning, before Smoak hit a two-run single and came around to score on Kyle Seager's double.
Smoak led the charge by going 2-for-5 with three RBIs, while Seager (2-for-3, two doubles), Ackley (2-for-3) and Cano (2-for-4) also had multihit days for the streaking Mariners.
"We've just got a lot of momentum going in this clubhouse," Saunders said. "We're having a lot of fun, pitchers are pitching great, we're getting good swings and we're just feeding off that."