SEATTLE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter sat in the visitors’ dugout of Safeco Field before Tuesday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners and preached about maintaining the “competitive integrity” of the game when playing against teams competing for postseason spots.
Then he sent out a starting lineup that included just three players who were on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster against a Mariners team clinging to its playoff hopes 5½ games out of the American League’s second wild-card spot.
The Orioles’ season has long since been over — the only question heading into this week’s series in Seattle being whether the team can avoid reaching its 100th loss here at Safeco Field — but on Tuesday night, the visitors embraced their spoiler role, further denting the Mariners’ playoff hopes with a 5-3 victory over Seattle.
“I mean, you know what’s on the line for Seattle,” Showalter said after the game. “You know they’re trying to operate on all cylinders…. But it started with, I think the whole game it gets forgotten, is another good outing by Alex Cobb.”
Cobb continued his second-half surge, recording his seventh quality start in his past eight outings.
Tuesday’s win — the Orioles’ first of their nine-game road trip five games into it — ended the team’s eight-game road losing streak. Their last one away from Camden Yards came Aug. 18 at Cleveland, when Cobb pitched a complete game against the Indians.
A Mariners team that stole the spotlight well before the game when a fight reportedly broke out among players in the Seattle clubhouse before batting practice appeared willing to fold on the field Tuesday.
It appeared that the Orioles (41-98) would waste another strong outing from Cobb, who settled in after allowing a solo homer to Robinson Canó in the first inning to hold the Mariners to one run over six innings. But by the end of the night, the Orioles had recorded 15 hits.
The Orioles trailed 1-0 entering the seventh, shut out by Mariners left-hander Wade LeBlanc, before rallying for four runs off the Mariners bullpen in the inning.
“With this offense, you know that that can happen at any point,” first baseman Trey Mancini said. “Unfortunately, it really hasn’t happened on this road trip until tonight, but it felt good to get a win there, and hopefully we can continue it the rest of these next four games.”
Renato Núñez crushed a full-count slider from right-handed reliever Adam Warren, sending it over the left-center-field fence for a leadoff homer to tie the game. Before that, the Orioles had scored just one run over their first 15 innings this series.
“That was a momentum changer for sure,” Mancini said. “Noony has put a lot of good at bats together, so yeah, it felt good to tie the game up there and put a few more up.”
Pinch hitter Cedric Mullins, who was out of the starting lineup against a lefty starter, came off the bench and singled off Warren, and Breyvic Valera’s ensuing single chased Warren from the game.
Left-hander Zach Duke entered the game, and right away was the beneficiary of right fielder Ben Gamel’s third defensive gem of the night as Gamel took away a hit from Austin Wynns with a charging diving catch.
Jonathan Villar singled on a ground ball through the left side of the infield, driving in the speedy Mullins from second. Joey Rickard flied out to left field against Nick Vincent, and both base runners attempted to advance. Denard Span had Villar nailed at second, but Villar stopped before reaching the base, avoided a tag and retreated, prompting a chase to first that allowed Valera to score.
“Yeah, we’ve been working on that all spring training,” Showalter deadpanned. “First of all, that’s kind of a mistake that gets rewarded, quite frankly. You shouldn’t go on that ball and a lot of people just give up. But he stopped and got the rundown going and that’s baseball moxie. How do you draw that up? That’s a feel play at third base [by Valera]. … That’s the more impressive part of it. And came out smelling like a rose.”
Villar landed on second on the play, and scored on Trey Mancini’s double off the right-field wall to give the Orioles a 4-1 lead.
Despite some loud contact early, Cobb held the Mariners to four hits over his six innings, pitching to contact and inducing 10 groundouts. Cobb also recorded five swinging strikes on his splitter.
He didn’t allow the Mariners’ best power bats to hurt him — he walked Canó his next plate appearance after the homer and walked former Oriole Nelson Cruz twice — and allowed just one hit to the Mariners’ No. 5 through 9 hitters.
Over his past 10 starts dating to July 13, Cobb (5-15) has a 2.67 ERA
“Through the course of that, some good stretches have gone on and I’m happy with that,” Cobb said. “It shows progress. But the ultimate goal is to get back to feeling 100 percent comfortable on the mound mechanically. This is the only way to do it, to go out there and pitch and compete and learn things along the way. So, I’m happy with the trend I’ve been on.”
The Mariners dropped two fly balls in the eighth. Ryon Healy allowed Núñez’s popup to first drop, a ball that was ruled a hit, giving Núñez three for the night. And Mullins received a second chance when catcher David Freitas dropped a popup just behind the plate.
Despite that, the Orioles nearly blew the lead later. Reliever Paul Fry loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth, and Showalter turned to right-hander Mychal Givens for a five-out save.
Givens induced the double-play ball he needed, getting a grounder to Villar at shortstop off the bat of Healy, but Valera’s throw to first skipped past Mancini and out of play, allowing two runners to score and placing the tying run at second.
After Givens fell behind pinch hitter Kyle Seager 2-0, he was placed on first with an intentional walk, and Givens went to a full count to a second lefty pinch-hitter, Chris Herrmann, before striking him out to end the inning.
Chris Davis’ RBI single in the top of the ninth gave the Orioles an insurance run, and Givens retired the Mariners with a scoreless inning.