Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez looks back over his shoulder after being relieved. File photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Seattle Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez will be seeking one of the most important wins in his grand history against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon when he pitched the finale of a four-game series between American League playoff hopefuls.
The third-place Mariners (76-60) gave their hopes of overtaking the second-place A's (81-56) a boost with a nail-biting, 8-7 victory Saturday night.
Seattle will leave Oakland either a reasonable 3 1/2 games or a distant 5 1/2 games behind the A's as they go head-to-head not just for second in the West but perhaps most important for the second AL wild-card berth.
The clubs also will meet three times in Seattle in the final week of the season, magnifying the need for the Mariners to stay at least within three games of the A's.
Hernandez (8-12, 5.49 ERA) hasn't had his best season, but the Mariners way more often than not have been in good hands when the 14-year veteran has pitched in Oakland.
Hernandez has faced the A's 50 times in his career, starting on 49 of those occasions. He has gone 26-12 with a 2.71 ERA.
The 26 wins are seven more than he has against any other team.
The 32-year-old has been especially good in Oakland, where he's 13-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 26 games, including 25 as a starter.
Hernandez's 13 wins in Oakland are the most by an A's opponent in Oakland Coliseum history.
He has faced the A's four times already this season and lost three of them, albeit by the low-scoring counts of 2-1, 4-3 and 3-2. The latter two games were in Oakland.
Hernandez, the sixth-winningest active pitcher with 168 victories, will be opposed by another member of the exclusive 100-win club, A's right-hander Edwin Jackson (4-3, 3.03), who owns 102 career wins.
The 34-year-old hasn't faced Seattle since 2013, but he dominated the Mariners when he did. Jackson has started four games in his career against the Mariners and won all four, compiling a 1.26 ERA in the process.
Jackson has not gotten out of the fifth inning in either of his last two starts -- home against Texas and at Houston -- allowing seven runs (six earned) and 11 hits in nine innings.
Neither team was particularly sharp in Saturday's game.
The A's lent a helping hand to the Mariners in a three-run third inning when second baseman Jed Lowrie and Stephen Piscotty miscommunicated, allowing Denard Span's pop fly to drop.
Oakland still had a chance to get a forceout at second base on the play, but center fielder Ramon Laureano threw wildly to the plate, allowing a run to score and setting up the other two runs.
Kyle Seager put the Mariners up 5-1 later in the inning with a single to right field on which Lowrie dropped a relay throw, allowing Span to score after he had initially held up at third.
The A's then caught a break in a four-run rally in the eighth when Span, playing left field, turned Marcus Semien's two-run double into a three-run blow when he bobbled the ball.
That got the A's within one and gave them a chance to tie the game with Semien at second base, but Mariners closer Edwin Diaz struck out Matt Chapman to retain the 8-7 lead.