OAKLAND, Calif. — Back when he was being used for first-inning batting practice, it appeared unlikely Joe Saunders could in any way help his team prevail.
The only question then was whether Saunders would even survive a four-run opening frame Tuesday night in which the Oakland Athletics made him throw 40 pitches. But Saunders fought back from there and somehow stuck around through six innings, letting his team hang in it long enough for an improbable 7-4 comeback win off the Oakland bullpen.
Seattle scored five runs in the eighth inning off relief pitchers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook, stunning a crowd of 13,041 at the Coliseum that had seen them hold the Mariners in-check most of the night. Up until that inning, the Mariners had mustered just two hits off sensational rookie A’s starter Sonny Gray, one of them being a two-run homer to right in the third by Nick Franklin.
For the Mariners, who had suffered a league-leading 10th walkoff defeat Monday night, these comeback wins are anything but commonplace. The A’s didn’t help matters much by doing little after they blitzed Saunders with four early hits to open the game, including a two-run homer by Josh Donaldson and a solo shot by Nate Freiman to go with an early Jed Lowrie triple.
The Franklin blast, his first in over three weeks, proved critical in keeping the Mariners within realistic striking distance once Gray left. Doolittle started the eighth and could not get anybody out, allowing hits to all four batters he faced, including a run-scoring double by Henry Blanco and a single by Franklin that tied it 4-4.
Cook came on from there and wasn’t much better, walking Kyle Seager and then uncorking a wild pitch that put Seattle ahead for the first time all night and sent Franklin to third.
Oakland’s woes continued as Kendrys Morales hit a shot to second base that Alberto Callaspo threw home on with Franklin breaking for the plate. Franklin jammed his right foot in ahead of the tag by catcher Derek Norris for a fourth Seattle run in the inning and a 6-4 lead.
On the play, Franklin’s left trail leg appeared to get inadvertently spiked near the knee by Norris. Franklin had to be helped off the field, limping, while Norris also was shaken up in the collision and had to leave the game.
An ensuing walk to Raul Ibanez loaded the bases— still with nobody out—and the second wild pitch of the inning by Cook soon brought Seager sprinting home to make it 7-4.
Brandon Maurer worked a scoreless seventh inning of relief to pick up the win. Yoervis Medina then survived a two-walk eighth inning before Danny Farquhar closed out the ninth.
Maurer had been warming up as far back as the first inning when it looked like Saunders might not escape the frame. The Mariners could have gone to Maurer right away to start the second, but opted to stick with Saunders, who made them glad they did.
He scattered five singles the rest of the way and used a pair of double-play grounders to avoid further trouble.