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Mariners pull off an improbable victory

8/23/2014



The Seattle Mariners defeated the Boston Red Sox 5-3 on Friday night. The result, considering the participants, was not a shock. The defending champions have been one of the biggest disappointments this season while the Mariners are seeking their first playoff berth since 2001. Seattle also had the league's best pitcher Felix Hernandez on the mound. While the outcome was predictable, the way in which it came about was anything but.

For the first five innings, Hernandez traded zeroes with Boston starter Joe Kelly. This has become a familiar sight for King Felix, who entered the game with 17 consecutive starts of allowing two runs or less -- an American League record.

Hernandez escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the first inning by inducing a groundball double play off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes. The two former division rivals squared off in a similar situation in the sixth inning with Cespedes reversing the outcome.

With Daniel Nava on third base and one out, the Mariners chose to intentionally walk David Ortiz to set up the double play. Cespedes and Hernandez battled for seven pitches before the outfielder took the eighth pitch -- a hanging changeup -- out of the ballpark to break the streak and give the Sox a 3-0 lead.

Boston carried that lead into the ninth inning when All-Star closer Koji Uehara took over. Things have not gone the Sox's way this year, but Uehara has been one of the team's bright spots. Coming into the game, he allowed just 10 earned runs in nearly 60 innings of work.

The evening started off well as Uehara retired Kyle Seager to lead off the inning before Logan Morrison singled. Uehara registered his 73rd punchout of the season, striking out Mike Zunino for the second out. Meanwhile, this night was about turning the odds upside down.

With two outs in the frame, Uehara uncharacteristically walked Endy Chavez. It was just the eighth free pass issued by the right-hander this season and only the 11th walk taken by Chavez in more than 200 plate appearances. Following a Chris Denorfia single to left that was not deep enough to score Morrison, the Mariners had the bases loaded. Still, with two outs and a three-run lead, the Sox still held a 97 percent chance of winning, according to fangraphs.com.

The Mariners acquired Austin Jackson at the trade deadline in a three-way deal with the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays involving David Price. At the time, it seemed the Tigers would run away with the American League Central. That has not happened. In fact, entering play on Friday, Seattle and Detroit were separated by just a ½ game in the wild-card chase. Jackson, the former Tiger, belted a two-out, two-strike, two-run double off the Green Monster to bring his new club to within one run. Meanwhile, Boston's chances of closing out the game with a victory stood at 80 percent.

Dustin Ackley's go-ahead single barely went 100 feet in the air before falling between shortstop Brock Holt and Cespedes in left field. The bloop single that barely fell out of reach from a diving Holt gave Seattle a 4-3 lead and accounted for a more than 60 percent drop in win expectancy for Boston. Robinson Cano drove in an additional run giving the Mariners a two-run cushion heading into the bottom of the inning. The Sox brought the tying run to the plate with two outs, but Christian Vazquez's fly out ended the game.

With the win over Boston, and a blowout loss for the Tigers, the Mariners are now in control of the AL's second wild-card spot. Although Hernandez was off his game, he, along with Hisashi Iwakuma give the M's a lethal one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Meanwhile, even with Price, the Tigers are fading quickly.

Once again, the odds were turned around several times this evening. No one expected Hernandez to allow three runs in less than six innings. No one could have predicted Uehara allowing half his earned run total coming into the game in two-thirds of an inning.

On the other hand, with a 68 percent chance of earning a playoff spot, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Mariners and their fans are hoping that the odds going forward are in their favor.

Tommy Rancel blogs about the Tampa Bay Rays at the SweetSpot network affiliate The Process Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @TRancel.