SEATTLE – The atmosphere inside the A’s clubhouse Saturday night was one of satisfaction, not celebration, and there’s an important difference between the two.
Players were willing to savor a 3-2 victory in 10 innings over Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners, a tense contest that had a postseason feel before a sellout crowd at Safeco Field.
The A’s played crisply, got an impressive starting effort from Sonny Gray and came out on top in a one-run game for the first time in what seemed like forever.
[RECAP: A's edge out Mariners in extras]
But there was also an understanding that one victory doesn’t mean a whole lot unless it’s a stepping stone to more quality play over the final two weeks of the regular season.
“At the end of the day, even though this is a huge win for us, it only counts as one,” closer Sean Doolittle said. “… We have to come ready to play (Sunday).”
The A’s haven’t notched back-to-back victories since Aug. 22-23, but with ace Jon Lester taking the hill in Sunday’s series finale, they have an opportunity to take this three-game series and steer some momentum back in their direction as they try to maintain their spot atop the American League’s wild card battle.
Their win Saturday kept them a half-game up on Kansas City for the top wild card spot, with the Mariners now one game back of the Royals for the second berth.
They didn’t do big-time damage against Hernandez, but they got to him for two runs and chased him from the game after seven innings. That’s a psychological boost given that the Cy Young candidate came in 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA against the A’s this season. The Mariners had won all five previous games in which Hernandez took the hill against Oakland in 2014.
With the score 2-2 in the top of the 10th, the A’s worked patiently against Mariners All-Star closer Fernando Rodney, who issued four walks (one intentional) and allowed the go-ahead run when he issued a bases-loaded free pass to Jed Lowrie on four pitches.
It was important that the A’s pulled out a close one. From Sept. 2-11, they lost seven times and each was a one-run defeat, the longest such streak in franchise history dating back to 1901.
It’s not out of the question the A’s could find themselves back at Safeco Field, facing Hernandez, in the win-or-go-home wild card game. Should that scenario play out, they can draw some confidence from having notched this win with him on the mound.
“No question about it, this was a huge win for us,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “So hopefully we can build upon this one. It’s one thing to score some runs in Chicago the other night. It’s another thing to (win a game against) a guy that’s really been tough on us.”
The A’s got a terrific all-around game from second baseman Eric Sogard. He singled in his first three at-bats from the No. 9 spot, including an RBI single in the seventh that gave the A’s a short-lived 2-1 lead. Sogard also played a strong defensive game.
Gray turned in eight innings of two-run ball. Despite allowing Robinson Cano’s homer that tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, the right-hander rose to the occasion in a hostile environment.
“It was great. It was loud,” Gray said. “Opening day atmosphere, playoff atmosphere.”
And it was quite the setting for Doolittle to make his first appearance since Aug. 23, when he suffered a strained muscle in his right side that landed him on the D.L. After the A’s took the lead in the top of the 10th, Doolittle set the Mariners down in order in the bottom half to seal it. Not to be overlooked, Luke Gregerson also turned in a 1-2-3 ninth against Seattle’s 2-4 hitters.
“I haven’t had an adrenaline rush like that in a really long time,” Doolittle said. “It was such an emotional game. I just had to go out there and try not to get caught up in it.”
“Having Doolittle back is a big boost,” Lowrie said. “He’s such an asset in close games.”
Now Lowrie is ready to see if he and his teammates can build on Saturday’s good vibes.
“It was a big win. We’ve said this before -- hopefully this gives us a little momentum.”