Baseball / Sports

Cano, Hernandez lead Mariners to win over Blue Jays

SEATTLE -- In the closest thing to playoff baseball to be played at Safeco Field in more than a decade, the Seattle Mariners -- a team that has been relegated to playing meaningless games in the final months of those miserable 10 seasons -- didn't shy away from the moment.

They relished it.

It helps that the man who has played in more big games and has the most postseason experience of anyone on the team delivered one of his best performances in a Mariners' uniform.

Robinson Cano started the seminal sixth inning with a solo homer and punctuated the seven-run explosion by nearly hitting another (instead settling for a RBI double), turning a tense game into a 11-1 laugher over the Toronto Blue Jays.

The anticipation leading into the three-game series was palpable. The Mariners and Blue Jays are vying for the last spot in the postseason -- the second wild card. They came into Monday night each 11/2 games behind the Kansas City Royals. It's a three-game series that has postseason implications. But on this night with a packed house of 41,168 -- almost 60 percent Blue Jays fans -- turning Safeco electric with energy, only one team played like a postseason-caliber squad.

It helped that the Mariners' two best players -- two of the best in all of baseball -- delivered outstanding performances with Cano at the plate and Felix Hernandez on the mound.

The Mariners (63-55) held a tenuous 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, already squandering a couple of prime scoring opportunities. Would this be another offensive struggle where two runs was going to have to be enough for Hernandez and the Seattle bullpen?

Not for Cano.

He stayed on a 91 mph fastball from Jays' starter Drew Hutchison that sat on the corner, driving it hard to left field and putting it over the wall, just inside of the foul pole for his 10th homer of the season. It was his first solo home run of the season.

Up 3-1, the Mariners could have breathed a sigh of relief. They are 32-8 in games when they score three runs or more. But Seattle was just getting started.

Kyle Seager drew a one-out walk and scored all the way from first when Mike Zunino belted a triple off the wall in right field to make it 4-1. With two outs, ageless Endy Chavez delivered his second hit of the game, doubling inside the third base bag to score Zunino to make it 5-1.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons finally lifted Hutchison. He called on left-hander Brad Mills to stop the bleeding. Instead, Mills only opened it up more.

Brad Miller, who hadn't played in six games, tripled to the right-center gap to score Chavez. Austin Jackson walked and Dustin Ackley scored both runners with a single up the middle. Cano stepped to the plate for the second time in the inning, and nearly got his second homer, lining a ball off the wall in left-center to score Ackley for a 9-1 lead.

That was more than enough run support for Hernandez, who had been cruising for the first six innings, allowing just one run -- a solo homer from Jose Bautista in the fourth inning -- and two hits.

After a near 20-minute bottom of the sixth, Hernandez pitched a scoreless seventh, extending his MLB record streak of consecutive starts of pitching seven innings or more and allowing two runs or less to 16 in a row. Hernandez has a 1.41 ERA over those starts. He improved to 13-3 on the season and lowered his overall ERA to 1.95.

Up 9-1, the Mariners weren't finished as they tacked on two more runs in the eighth inning to make 11-1 with James Jones and Miller driving in runs.

(c)2014 The Seattle Times

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