SEATTLE -- For a Mariners team looking to get back on track starting the second half, Wade LeBlanc proved to be just what the doctor ordered on Friday night, as the veteran lefty tied a career high with 10 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings in a 3-1 victory over the White Sox at Safeco Field.
LeBlanc outdueled White Sox right-hander James Shields as Seattle snapped a four-game losing streak and got back to 20 games over .500 at 59-39. The savvy southpaw allowed just four hits and one walk in an 84-pitch gem as he improved to 6-1 with a 3.44 ERA.
"We need some momentum," LeBlanc said. "The break came at a good time for us. Hopefully we can take this game, roll it into tomorrow and keep going."
Combined with an Oakland loss to San Francisco, the Mariners regained a four-game cushion over the A's in the race for the American League's second Wild Card spot, though remaining five back of the Astros in the AL West.
"Outstanding effort by Wade LeBlanc," said Mariners manager Scott Servais, who signed a multi-year extension on Friday. "It's Wade's World, what can you say? Ten strikeouts, just really good stuff, on the edges, had them off balance all night. Great way for us to come back after the All-Star break, just to have a shutdown performance like that."
The Mariners had won just three of their previous 11 games and ended the first half on a 1-5 road trip, but were welcomed home by a crowd of 43,331. LeBlanc has pitched well at home all year and is 6-0 with a 2.67 ERA in 11 games (nine starts) at Safeco compared to 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA in nine road games (six starts).
LeBlanc gave up his lone run on a pair of doubles in the first inning, but then got into a groove and equaled a career strikeouts high he'd set in 2011, while with the Padres.
"For me, strikeouts are all about execution." he said. "I can read swings pretty well, I can understand what they're trying to do, but if I don't execute, then they're going to be able to put the bat on the ball because I don't have swing-and-miss stuff.
"So if I'm not executing -- perfect example would be the first inning. A couple mistakes, and give up a run. But after that, you settle in, kind of get into a rhythm, a flow of the game and start executing."
LeBlanc isn't the only one who enjoys playing at home. The Mariners are 23-7 at Safeco Field since May 18, the best record in the Majors, and have the fourth-best home record in MLB for the season at 32-17.
Dee Gordon went 4-for-4 from his leadoff spot for Seattle and Nelson Cruz had a pair of RBIs, including a run-scoring single in the eighth to provide some helpful cushion.
"That's the Dee Gordon we saw early in the year when the toe was healthy and everything else," Servais said. "He said he felt great coming back from the break, so it was good to see him getting off to that kind of start."
"I was playing hurt," Gordon said. "You can't be yourself when you're hurt. I had a broken toe in my right foot, so it's tough to be myself. I'm feeling better."
All-Star closer Edwin Diaz recorded his MLB-leading 37th save with a scoreless ninth and is on pace for 61 for the season, which would be one shy of the Major League record 62, set by Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels in 2008.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The White Sox threatened in the eighth with a one-out single by Omar Narvaez off LeBlanc, who was then replaced by Alex Colome. Things got interesting when Yolmer Sanchez immediately singled to put two on, but Colome retired Tim Anderson and Leury Garcia on fly balls to preserve LeBlanc's 2-1 lead.
The Mariners are 22-8 against AL Central teams this season with just the two games remaining against the White Sox this weekend. They went 5-2 vs. the Indians, 5-1 vs. the Royals and Twins, 4-3 vs. the Tigers, and are now 3-1 against the White Sox. The last time Seattle had a winning record against every Central foe was 2003 and the .733 winning percentage against that division is the second-best in franchise history, behind only a .756 (31-10) mark in 2001.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Gordon's speed forced a White Sox error and created a run in the first inning for Seattle with an interesting bit of back-and-forth baserunning. After a leadoff single, Gordon tried to steal second on a fly to center by Jean Segura and was at second base when Adam Engel made the catch. Gordon raced back to first while Engel tried to double him off, but instead Engel bounced his throw past Jose Abreu as Gordon jumped up and hustled back to second. Gordon then moved to third on a Mitch Haniger single and scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Cruz.
"I don't know how far he ran on that play," Servais said. "When Dee Gordon is on base, it's electric. It changes the whole course of a game and the pitchers' focus and we saw it again tonight."
HE SAID IT
"We wanted to start back out on the right foot and LeBlanc found a way to get it done. It was a typical win for the Mariners. If want to go to the playoffs, it's going to take pitching. So far they've been doing the job, so hopefully that should be the tone for the rest of the season." -- Cruz, on coming out of the All-Star break on a good note
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The White Sox unsuccessfully challenged an out call in the third inning when Kyle Seager fielded a chopper down the third-base line by Anderson and fired to Gordon at second to get the force on Sanchez. Gordon's foot was barely touching the bag as he came off to make the catch, but the call was confirmed after a quick review.
Felix Hernandez (8-7, 5.13 ERA) will come off the 10-day disabled list and face White Sox right-hander Dylan Covey (3-5, 5.69) in Saturday's 7:10 p.m. PT game. Hernandez skipped one start to rest his sore lower back after going just five innings in three of his last four outings. He is 7-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 20 starts vs. the White Sox, including a 4-3 win in Chicago in April when he allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings.