SEATTLE – Facing Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who is on a historic run of dominating hitters, wasn’t fun for Chris Davis early.
The Orioles first baseman struck out in his first two at-bats against Hernandez and was hitless in three plate appearances against him Friday night.
“At times it felt like he was just kind of playing around out there,” Davis said. “That’s how he’s been all year. He’s at the top of his game right now. There’s, in my mind, not a better pitcher in the league at this point.”
But the Orioles knew that if they could keep the game close against Hernandez, they might be able to steal a win in the Pacific Northwest.
Davis helped the Orioles do that, blasting a solo home run off reliever Charlie Furbush in the top of the 10th in a 2-1 win in front of an announced 24,792 at Safeco Field, giving the Orioles their 10th win in 13 extra-inning games this season.
“You know you have a tough task when you go up against [Hernandez],” Davis said. “You can’t just go out there and take pitches. He throws a lot of strikes, so you just have to kind of grind him out. Obviously, their bullpen is pretty solid, too. It was big to get a hit at that time.”
Right-hander Kevin Gausman matched Hernandez, rebounding from a four-inning outing on Sunday in Oakland. He held the Mariners scoreless for the first five innings and recorded his second-longest outing of the season, allowing one run over 6 2/3 innings to give the Orioles their fifth straight quality start.
Against a Mariners team that has managed just one run over the first 19 innings of this series, the Orioles needed just two solo homers to win. Davis’ homer and Nelson Cruz’s second-inning blast were seven innings apart, but they did the job.
With the win, the Orioles (57-45) guaranteed themselves at least a .500 record on their 10-game West Coast road trip and have won four of their past five. They have won 16 of their past 23 games on the road and are 16-9 against the American League West this season.
Davis took a 1-2 slider over the middle of the plate and sent a towering blast over the right-field fence.
“It was up in the zone, and he hit it out of the park," Furbush said. "It was the pitch I wanted to throw. I just left it up.”
And even though Davis has struggled matching 2013's historic 53-homer season, seven of Davis’ 17 homers this season have given the Orioles the lead.
“Chris doesn't let things snowball mentally,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You know it’s so frustrating -- can you imagine doing what he did last year knowing you are capable of that? And going through some of the challenges. But he’s had some really big hits for us this year. Tonight was a good example of that.”
Hernandez, the AL leader in ERA (1.99), allowed just one run over seven innings for his 13th consecutive start of seven or more innings and two or fewer runs allowed, tying a major league record set by Tom Seaver in 1971.
“He’s special,” Showalter said. “Everybody in Seattle knows that. Very few pitchers you will see have that good of a hand and can manipulate the ball and do so many things with it. And almost invent pitches out there. What people miss is he’s got such a great feel for pitching."
After Cruz’s homer, Hernandez retired 11 straight and 16 of the next 18 batters. On the night, Hernandez recorded 10 strikeouts and no walks.
Against a Seattle lineup that had seven left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter, Gausman used his fastball-changeup mix to record his second-longest outing of the season.
“You are going to have to have a good changeup to get through that lineup,” Showalter said. “He was good. Boy, he was good.”
Over the past five games, Orioles starters have compiled a 1.26 ERA.
Gausman, who has allowed one run or none in six of his nine starts and has a 2.86 ERA on the road, nearly matched Hernandez.
“I think anytime you face a guy like that, everybody knows about it,” Gausman said. “He just went 13 straight or something like that. That’s pretty ridiculous. I definitely knew I was going to have my 'A' game tonight, and as the game got on I just tried to stay locked in. When we got that home run [by Cruz], it was almost a sign of relief. It was like, 'OK, we got one and that might be all we get.' You got to try to pick up your stuff there.”
Gausman dodged trouble through the middle innings. He stranded base runners at third base in the third and fourth innings.
After issuing a one-out walk to No. 9 hitter Brad Miller in the fifth, former Oriole Endy Chavez singled into right field. Miller ran to second but was called out for base runner interference when the umpires ruled Chavez’s batted ball hit him.
The Mariners still put a runner in scoring position that inning when Chavez stole second with two outs. James Jones then singled to left, but left fielder Steve Pearce launched a perfect throw to get Chavez at home by about 20 feet for the out.
Seattle finally broke through against Gausman in the sixth. Robinson Cano led off with a triple to right field that Nick Markakis nearly caught on the run.
Newcomer Kendrys Morales, playing his first game back with the Mariners after a trade with the Minnesota Twins earlier this week, hit a fly ball to right. Markakis caught the ball and made a throw home on the fly, but it was too high to prevent Cano from scoring the tying run.
Gausman nearly matched his season-best seven innings (June 7 against Oakland) but fell one out short. He allowed a one-out single to catcher Mike Zunino and then issued his third walk of the night, to Miller, but struck out Chavez on a 96 mph fastball for the second out.
Showalter went to left-hander Brian Matusz to face Jones, but right-handed hitter Stefen Romeo pinch-hit for him and hit a towering flyout to left to end the inning.
Cruz, who entered the night homerless over his past 12 games, turned on a first-pitch delivery from Hernandez and lined it into the first row of the left-field stands.
“Oh, my god, that was a rocket," Hernandez said of Cruz's homer. "Unbelievable. I thought that ball was going to hit the wall. I didn’t get angry. It was just a mistake. After that, I just tried to throw good pitches.”
The Orioles mounted nothing else against Hernandez. Caleb Joseph hit a leadoff double in the third but was stranded on third base.
Markakis hit a ball in the sixth inning that appeared to be heading over the right-field fence, but it appeared to deflect off Chavez’s glove as he made a leaping attempt to make the catch. Markakis landed on second base with a standup double but went no further.
Matusz gave the Orioles a boost with 1 2/3 scoreless innings against a lefty-heavy lineup. Despite allowing an eighth-inning double to Seager, he struck out the side in the inning.
After Matusz retired Logan Morrison one pitch into the ninth, right-hander Darren O’Day struck out Zunino and Miller to end the inning.
With two outs in the 10th, closer Zach Britton fielded Robinson Cano’s grounder in front of the mound, but his throw to first appeared to draw Davis off. But Showalter challenged the call and it was overturned for the final out, giving Britton his 19th save in 22 opportunities and filling Safeco Field with boos.
Davis didn’t know whether he did, but replay showed that Britton’s throw was in Davis’ mitt before his foot went off the bag.
“Couldn’t tell,” Davis said. “Plays like that when the ball’s coming in and the runner’s coming, everything kind of hits at the same time. I thought I might have had my foot on the bag and then come off afterwards. But I really didn’t know. If I had known, I would have motioned to Buck or given him a heads-up, but kudos to him and [replay review coordinator] Adam [Gladstone] for being heads-up. That’s a big out right there.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun