A’s speed burns Mariners on Fourth of July

With his sixth-straight start of seven innings or more — and 16 consecutive scoreless frames —Oakland starter Kendall Graveman gave the Athletics a fighting chance to claim the four-game series with Seattle.

Behind a strong outing from Graveman, and a pair of RBI from left fielder Ben Zobrist, the A’s claimed a 2-0 victory over the AL West rival Seattle Mariners on a sunny Fourth of July afternoon.

The win marks the first time Seattle ace Felix Hernandez has lost in Oakland since 2009. Oakland catcher and offensive leader Stephen Vogt spoke of the magnitude of the victory:

“To put ourselves in the position to take the series tomorrow is huge, especially with Felix (Hernandez)’s game being the swing game of the series, I think it was huge for us.”

After getting into trouble early with Graveman allowing two of the first three batters to reach, it was Vogt who snuffed out the early rally by throwing out Mariners center fielder Austin Jackson stealing third for the inning’s second out. The caught stealing was one of the biggest outs of the game, according to Graveman.

The 24-year-old righty would then strikeout right fielder Nelson Cruz with a 2-2 cutter away. Seattle failed to put together another significant threat until the seventh inning.

The A’s, on the other hand, seemed to have Hernandez backed into a corner nearly every inning. Hernandez allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in five of his seven innings, but, as A’s manager Bob Melvin pointed out, the inability to capitalize on opportunities hurt:

“That can be demoralizing knowing that you had a guy like that on the ropes and you couldn’t at least score a couple of runs off of him.”

As it turned out, a first-pitch single from Zobrist in the first knocked in what would prove to be the winning run as center fielder Billy Burns scampered home from second. The well-struck grounder got to Seth Smith in medium-deep left field before Burns reached third, but with Burns’ speed and Smith’s weak arm, third base coach Mike Gallego was more than willing to challenge.

In the bottom of the seventh, with Burns at third and Zobrist batting once again, Gallego once again challenged the arm of the former Athletic. And once again, Burns scored.

What was,at the time an add-on run seemed like it would be needed just a half inning earlier.

Singles by second baseman Robinson Cano and Cruz led started what looked like a rally with a pair of lefties in third baseman Kyle Seager and Smith due up. That brought Melvin to the mound, though he decided to leave his starter in:

“Even thought those were two tough lefties (Kyle Seager and Seth Smith), he deserved to be in the game at that time … For him to get both Seager and Smith, those were probably the key outs in the game.”

Just three batters later, Graveman was out of the inning – with help from first baseman Ike Davis’ glove and a nice stretch of his own on the back end.

The strong outing was backed up by lefty reliever Drew Pomeranz and closer Tyler Clippard who combined to allow a walk and a single over the final two frames.

After the game, Melvin’s relief at finally ending Hernandez’s dominance in Oakland was accompanied by a quick joke:

“It feels good (to beat Hernandez). He has just handed it to us here at home. And its not like he pitched poorly today, he didn’t have his best stuff and he wiggled out of a bunch of jams. But now he’s 0-1 in his last one start here.”