(Photo credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)
Having caught the Texas Rangers in their duel for second place in the American League West, the Seattle Mariners can now set their sights on the front-running Houston Astros when they continue a three-game road series against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.
Getting nothing but good news in their scoreboard-watching during their Monday game, the Mariners (82-68) took advantage of losses by the Rangers (82-68) and Astros (84-67) to catch the former and move within 1 1/2 games of the latter with a 5-0 win over the A's in their series opener.
The loss was Oakland's fifth straight, a stretch in which the Athletics have managed just eight runs. Now the A's (46-104) must go up against Mariners right-hander Luis Castillo (13-7, 3.08 ERA), who is unbeaten in last 11 starts, going 7-0 with a 3.26 ERA. Seattle has gone 9-2 in those games.
Castillo's 31st start of the season will be his second against the A's. He pitched six shutout innings in an 11-2 home win over Oakland on May 22, improving his career numbers to 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in four lifetime starts against Oakland.
Rookie Esteury Ruiz didn't start the Monday game for the A's, but that didn't stop him from achieving a piece of franchise history.
He entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and lined out to left field. Ruiz stayed in the game and got another at-bat, an eighth-inning single that he followed up with his 60th and 61st stolen bases of the season.
In doing so, he became the first Oakland player to reach 60 steals in a season since Rickey Henderson did it a final time in 1998.
"It's a great accomplishment," A's manager Mark Kotsay said. "The success he's had in his first (full) year in the big leagues. ... (The 60 steals) hasn't been done in a long time, and it was done last by a Hall of Famer."
In an attempt to play spoiler, the A's have scheduled right-hander Paul Blackburn (4-5, 4.14 ERA) for the rematch. He has pitched no more than five innings in any of his three September starts, going 1-1 with a 5.73 ERA.
The 29-year-old has not faced the Mariners this season. He has gone 2-3 with a 5.09 ERA in seven career starts against Seattle.
Blackburn will see a Mariners squad that put up five runs in the series opener while getting almost nothing from two of its hottest hitters -- Julio Rodriguez (0-for-4) and Teoscar Hernandez (1-for-5).
Hernandez's hit, a ninth-inning single, wasn't a big one in terms of winning or losing the game. Nonetheless, it potentially started a new streak of consecutive games getting on base at least once after his 30-gamer -- the longest by a Mariner in seven years -- ended on Sunday.
"Because of what Julio has done -- which has been unbelievable -- Teo has kind of been in the shadows," Mariners coach Manny Acta said. "But he's been ridiculous -- ridiculous in a good way. It's just that not many people are noticing because of what Julio's doing."
--Field Level Media