The Mariners were in quest of their 74th win of the season Sunday, playing against an Oakland team that won 74 games last year.
This isn’t last year. The A’s of 2012 have turned into one of the behemoths of the American League. The Mariners don’t have nearly the skill level to deal with the fiery determination of a team that has 91 wins and still has a chance to win the AL West.
Seattle left the basepaths littered with runners but had the usual trouble turning them into runs. The A’s couldn’t get anything much going against Seattle starter Erasmo Ramirez, but Oakland came back to crush the Mariner bullpen for the third time in the three-game set for a 5-2 win.
Yoenis Cespedes hit a one-out solo homer off Shawn Kelley to snap a 2-2 tie in the eighth, and Josh Reddick followed that with a two-run bomb off Lucas Luetge to complete a three-game sweep, Oakland’s seventh consecutive win over Seattle.
The Mariner bullpen, mostly young and obviously unused to the length of a big league season and the number of innings required of them, clearly has hit the wall. The A’s scored 12 runs in 7.1 innings off Seattle relievers in and pinned losses on setup men Oliver Perez Saturday and Kelley Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Seattle offense in th series scored just one run against Oakland relievers in 13.1 innings.
Particularly galling for manager Eric Wedge was the seventh inning. Brendan Ryan led off with a double and Trayvon Robinson, playing after Franklin Gutierrez came up with a groin injury, singled. But Ryan had trouble judging the ball, broke poorly off second base and only made it to third when he probably should have scored.
Then Casper Wells, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero all struck out. That lack of performance remains a major issue for Wedge.
“This has been the story of our season offensively,” Wedge said. “Collectively, we’ve got to do better and finish innings off. When you have 11 or 12 hits in a game, you’ve got to do better than a couple of runs. (And with men on third base) we’ve got to put the ball in play.”
Getting hits with men in scoring position, for once, wasn’t an issue. The Mariners went 5-for-15 with men at second or third. The trouble was they couldn’t convert. Only two of the five hits produced a run.
The second inning saw three hits lead to Justin Smoak being thrown out at the plate. A leadoff double in the first, a leadoff double in the seventh and a one-out triple in the fifth produced zero runs.
The Mariners didn’t get a base runner after Robinson’s single, the last of the Mariners' 11 hits. Ramirez gave up two runs crafted around a jam-shot Cespedes triple in the first inning, but when the 22-year-old rookie left the game in the seventh, he’d allowed no additional runs and just three hits.
He did have trouble with his control, walking four after having walked just four in his first seven starts of the season.
“I thought he did a good job of keeping the ball down; he was missing in the right spots,” Wedge said. “It wasn’t the same command we’re used to. You don’t see him walk guys like that. I thought he pitched a real good ball game for us.”
That couldn’t be said of the Seattle relievers.