SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez seemed to finally solve the recent struggles that put his candidacy for the AL Cy Young Award in peril.
Too bad his Seattle Mariners teammates still can't solve winning in extra innings — not that anyone has been doing that of late against the Baltimore Orioles.
Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning and the Orioles won their 15th straight extra-innings game with a 3-1 victory over the Mariners on Wednesday night.
A night after the teams played an 18-inning marathon that lasted nearly 6 hours, Jones, the one-time Mariners prospect, gave Baltimore a huge boost in its race with the Yankees for the lead in the AL East. Even with New York sweeping a doubleheader from Toronto on Wednesday, the Orioles stayed just a half-game back in the division race. Additionally, the Orioles moved into the top spot in the AL wild-card race after Oakland was handed a 6-2 loss in Detroit.
According to the Orioles, with information from the Elias Sports Bureau, the 15 straight extra-inning wins is the longest streak since the Cleveland Indians won 17 straight in 1949. Throw in a sweep of Seattle and wins in seven of nine and the Orioles are making plenty of September noise.
"After playing 18 innings last night they turned the page quickly," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "There wasn't a word said about extra innings. It's the job description."
Jones' turned on a 3-2 pitch from Seattle's Josh Kinney (0-3) and sent his 30th homer into the Baltimore bullpen in left field to finally break a 1-1 tie that had lasted since the fourth inning. Jones became the first Baltimore outfielder to reach 30 homers since Brady Anderson hit 50 in 1996. It was his third career homer against the franchise that drafted the talented center fielder, and then traded him to the Orioles as part of a massive deal that brought pitcher Erik Bedard to Seattle and turned out to be a flop for the Mariners.
Hernandez perhaps re-ignited his Cy Young chances by throwing eight innings, giving up just one run, six hits and striking out eight. But he couldn't snap his three-game losing streak thanks to the no-decision. It was the sixth time this season Hernandez has pitched at least seven innings and given up one or none earned runs, but come away with a no-decision. It was his 12th start overall pitching at least eight innings with one earned run or less, the most in the majors.
The only run Baltimore got off Hernandez was due to hustle. Chris Davis was running on a 3-2 pitch and scored from first on Mark Reynolds' single in the fourth inning, sliding across home plate ahead of Jesus Montero's sweep tag.
"In the beginning of the game I was making good pitches, executing good pitches. I was not leaving anything in the middle," Hernandez said. "I was not opening too early, just following through straight to home plate. That is the key for me."
Seattle's problem was its inability to get anything started against Orioles starter Joe Saunders or capitalize on a chance to win the game in the 10th inning.
In his previous six starts at Safeco Field, Saunders was 6-0 with a 0.98 ERA. It was just the recipe Baltimore needed with a taxed bullpen that saw seven relievers work in Tuesday night's game.
Saunders did his part getting through eight innings. He gave up five hits and struck out two. It was just the second time this season — and first since joining the Orioles in August — that Saunders pitched at least eight innings. He had a complete game three-hitter for Arizona against Miami in April.
"You can talk a lot about what happened this game, offensively and what not, but the conversation has to start with the effort that Joe gave us," Showalter said.
The Mariners had a golden chance to avoid being swept in the 10th inning after Michael Saunders, Trayvon Robinson and Dustin Ackley all walked, leaving the bases loaded with two outs. Baltimore brought in Luis Ayala (5-4) to face Franklin Gutierrez, whose fourth-inning homer served as Seattle's only run. Gutierrez was able to work the count to 3-2, but Ayala came inside and forced a weak pop up to shortstop to end Seattle's best scoring threat.
Again, the Mariners had a chance in the 11th against closer Jim Johnson, but the chance at a clutch hit never materialized. Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero started the inning with singles. Johnson quickly rebounded to get Justin Smoak to ground into a 3-6-1 double play with Seager advancing to third.
Michael Saunders walked, but on the first pitch to pinch-hitter John Jaso, Saunders attempted to steal second. Taylor Teagarden was surprised by the attempted steal, but was still able to make a perfect throw to get Saunders and end the game with Jaso's bat never leaving his shoulder.
"I had to be aggressive in that situation and I had to get to second base," Saunders said.
Notes: Baltimore swept the Mariners in Seattle for the first time since 1997. ... Tuesday's game was the second-longest in Safeco Field history by innings and the longest by time at 5 hours, 44 minutes. ... Baltimore LHP Brian Matusz pitched in the 10th inning less than 24 hours after needing to go to a Seattle hospital seeking treatment for an allergic food reaction.