OAKLAND, Calif. — At least the Seattle Mariners just gave their higher-ups some positive conditions under which to announce that general manager Jack Zduriencik is under contract for an additional year.
Beating the Oakland Athletics, 5-3, here on Wednesday afternoon gave the Mariners a winning trip and their second straight series victory over an American League West contender. With sources indicating the team will clarify Zduriencik’s future before the club plays again, taking five of nine on the road against winning teams is about as good as it gets for a Mariners squad still eight games under .500.
“It was a great road trip,” interim manager Robby Thompson said after his final game running the team ahead of Eric Wedge’s return this Friday. “I’m proud of these guys. Obviously, all of these teams we faced were either in first or second place. And they’ve been playing well all along, all year long. All of these teams have.
“When you look back on it, it could have been a little better even,” he added. “We had a chance to win a couple of more ballgames, but overall, playing the team that we played on this tough road trip, we feel it was a great road trip.”
And there haven’t been many of those in a season falling well short of the .500-or-better expectations the Mariners had coming in. That might explain why they’ve waited this long to announce an extension that sources say was given Zduriencik a few months after the 2012 campaign ended.
Besides the tough public sell of any extension right after an 87-loss season in 2012 and one currently headed for a similar total, there’s the added complication that manager Wedge is not under contract beyond this year. Rumors also began swirling late Tuesday — fueled in part by an item from a New York-based CBS Sports columnist — that the Mariners might pursue New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman if he was cut loose early from a deal that also runs through 2014.
But Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said in an interview Tuesday night that his team is not making any push for Cashman. The Mariners had sought permission to interview Cashman before hiring Zduriencik in 2008 and the fact that both have contracts expiring after 2014 would not preclude Seattle from taking another shot a year from now, regardless of any extension announcement in coming days.
Reached by phone, Zduriencik would not comment on his contract status.
As for Wednesday’s game, played in front of 18,641 at the Coliseum, the A’s blew an early lead for the second day in a row. Home runs by Coco Crisp in the first inning and Nate Freiman in the fourth had Oakland up 3-1.
But Iwakuma made some in-game adjustments, got his pitches lower in the zone and waited for his offense to come back. The Mariners had gotten a solo homer by Michael Morse in the second inning and Brad Miller added another in the fifth off Oakland starter A.J. Griffin to cut the lead to 3-2.
Brendan Ryan then took over from there, driving in his team’s final three runs. Making a rare start at shortstop, Ryan hit a double in the sixth that scored a pair to put Seattle ahead and then added an infield single in the eighth to bring home a huge insurance marker.
Iwakuma went seven innings and collected the win after closer Danny Farquhar struck out the side in the ninth for his ninth save.
“Early on, my pitches were up,” Iwakuma said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “But as I got deeper into the game, I was able to command my pitches lower in the zone. Even with runners on second and third, I was able to keep the ball down and pitch effectively.”
The A’s had runners at the corners with one out in the seventh, with Seattle up, 3-2, when Ryan made a nice stop of a Jed Lowrie grounder. Off-balance and on his knees, he fired home to get lead runner Eric Sogard in a rundown.
Sogard was tagged out and Iwakuma got a popout to end the inning. Ryan said he might have tired for a double play, but was a little too off-balance to risk making the feed to second.
Ryan was only playing because regular shortstop Brad Miller had moved over to second base in-place of injured Nick Franklin. Thompson had thought of putting Ackley back at his old second base spot and leaving Miller at shortstop, but played a hunch and went with Ryan.
For Ryan, the rare chance to contribute after barely playing the past two months was a welcome one. He’s tried to stay as professional as possible about his situation while also mentoring Miller and Franklin.
“It’s definitely not easy,” he said. I’ve got no reason to lie, but we’re all professionals. I mean, if I’m hitting .280, who knows what happens? But the fact of the matter is, we’ve got big leaguers here in the clubhouse, everybody has earned their role and this is the role I’ve carved out for myself.”
And now, with Ryan contributing to the winning trip, the people running his team will have a chance to clarify exactly what role Zduriencik has carved out for himself.