OAKLAND, Calif. — None of the shiny new Mariners in the lineup had done anything by the time some bottom-order holdovers decided to take over.
Brendan Ryan wasn’t thinking much about his sub-.200 batting average from 2012 when he and Dustin Ackley used their legs to change the outcome of Monday night’s season opener. Both used heads-up running on Ryan’s single in the fifth inning to position themselves to score the only runs in a 2-0 win over the Oakland Athletics.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez tossed 7-2/3 innings of three-hit ball, striking out eight, as the Mariners survived some anemic offense to win their seventh consecutive season opener.
Tom Wilhelmsen retired the side in the ninth to save it for Hernandez, who might not have gotten the decision without the fifth-inning exploits of Ackley and Ryan.
“That’s what Ack and I are going to be doing all year,” said Ryan, who scored with Ackley on a single to center by Franklin Gutierrez. “Hopefully, the bottom of the lineup is getting on base and just getting things started for the top of the lineup.”
Ryan reached base on a pair of walks as well as a bloop single to right field in the pivotal fifth. Ackley was at first base after a walk, then correctly judged that Ryan’s hit would drop in and headed to third.
A cannon throw by A’s right fielder Josh Reddick nearly got him, but Ackley beat it with a foot-first slide. Just as importantly, Ryan went to second on the throw to eliminate the double-play possibility.
“He made a great read,” Ryan said of Ackley. “It was a good time to be aggressive and it worked out. … We want to be aggressive at the right times and feel like most of the time it’s going to work out for us, and live with it when it doesn’t.”
And largely because of Ackley’s read and Hernandez’s pitching, a crowd of 36,067 at the Coliseum saw the A’s lose their ninth season opener in a row to tie a major-league mark. The last four of those defeats have come against the Mariners.
A’s left-hander Brett Anderson struck out his first four batters and allowed just four hits over seven innings. Ackley sensed it was time to try something a little bolder in the fifth and didn’t hesitate to go to third on Ryan’s hit.
“I think it’s important to have those guys in scoring position,” said Ackley, who hit .226 last season and has been dropped to eighth in the order. “It just changes the whole dynamic of it. Brendan (Ryan) did a nice job of getting to second on that. That was huge. That was kind of overlooked, I think.”
Ryan’s defensive play certainly wasn’t.
Hernandez celebrated demonstratively in the fourth when Ryan threw out Yoenis Cespedes at first base by an eyelash. John Jaso had doubled to snap Hernandez’s streak of 10 batters retired to start the game and was on third with two out when the speedy Cespedes hit a grounder up the middle.
Ryan ranged deep and to his right, then made a rapid-fire throw to first to nab Cespedes and get Hernandez out of the inning.
Hernandez was also pleased to see good pal Gutierrez, with his health issues in recent years, deliver.
“Like I’ve said before, he makes a lot of difference to our lineup,” Hernandez said.
On this night, the lineup was just good enough. The Mariners struck out 10 times against Anderson and his bullpen, buying the A’s time to mount a comeback in the eighth.
Hernandez was pulled with two on and two out, and reliever Charlie Furbush then walked the bases full. But Stephen Pryor got pinch-hitter Derek Norris to ground into a force out at second to end the threat.
And while the offense wasn’t quite the blueprint drawn up in spring training, Mariners manager Eric Wedge will take what he got from his less-heralded bats on a night both staff aces were dealing.
“You could tell early on that he had good stuff,” Wedge said of Anderson. “So, we knew when we had opportunities, we were going to have to take advantage of them. And we did.”