Rewind: Might A's have to topple King Felix in wild card?

Rewind: Might A's have to topple King Felix in wild card?
September 3, 2014, 6:45 pm
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He pitched well, but we gotta get more runners on, and when we get them on, we gotta get them in.
Derek Norris on Felix Hernandez

OAKLAND –- This is the kind of history the A’s don’t want repeating itself come the postseason.

Felix Hernandez proved once again Wednesday just how powerful of a spell he casts on Oakland’s bats. He got the best of A’s lefty Jon Lester in a 2-1 Seattle Mariners victory that Bob Melvin accurately described as being a story of three swings of the bat.

Adam Dunn homered off Hernandez in the fourth inning to put the A’s on top. Then Kyle Seager and Corey Hart went deep in back-to-back plate appearances off Lester in the seventh, and the A’s were on their way to their 16th defeat in their past 23 games.

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Oakland trails the first-place Los Angeles Angels by five games pending Wednesday night’s results, and with each loss, the American League West championship becomes tougher to envision and a spot in the A.L. wild-card game seems closer to reality.

That’s an unpleasant scenario for the A’s should they find themselves matched up against the Mariners in that do-or-die matchup. A Lester vs. Hernandez rematch could very likely be on tap in that case, and Wednesday’s potential wild-card preview was not a good omen.

Not that Melvin is about to concede anything with 23 regular-season games left.

“That’s your goal as a team,” the A’s manager said of the A.L. West title. “What we focus on is winning a game, and that’s what we have to continue to do. There are a lot of games left. If you look ahead and look at how many games you’re behind or whatever, it can be a distraction for you. We’re all about winning Friday’s game.”

Wednesday’s loss left the A’s still leading Detroit by three games for the top wild-card spot, but the Mariners pulled to within a half-game of the Tigers for the second wild-card berth.

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A lot can change over the final 3 ½ weeks, but Wednesday’s game was a reminder of why the A’s have considered it so important to claim the division and avoid a one-game play-in scenario. They can run their own shutdown pitcher to the mound in that situation with Lester, but even he has an extremely small margin for error given the current state of the A’s offense.

Wednesday marked the 24th time in 44 games since the All-Star break that they were held to three or fewer runs in a game.

“Two solo homers (allowed), I like my chances in just about any game,” Lester said. “But Felix was on the other side and did one better.”

Dunn, whom the A’s acquired Sunday from the White Sox, has made an immediate impact. He’s homered twice in two starts as Oakland’s designated hitter, and he also singled in a pinch-hitting appearance Tuesday night. He got a 3-2 fastball from Hernandez in the fourth and drove it deep into the right-field seats.

With Lester (13-10) on the hill, you wondered if that might be enough. But in the seventh, Seager worked the count to 3-1 and got a fastball that he knocked over the right field wall. Two pitches later, Hart turned on a 0-1 fastball and homered to left.

That wound up being enough for Hernandez (14-5), who was coming off three subpar outings but allowed the A’s just three hits over eight innings.

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The A’s have seen that kind of performance plenty from Hernandez, who is 19-7 against Oakland in his career and 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in nine starts at the Coliseum since April 1, 2011.

They don’t want to see an encore come playoff time.

“He pitched well, but we gotta get more runners on, and when we get them on, we gotta get them in,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “Whatever spark we gotta find, we just gotta find it and roll with it.”

Added Melvin: “We’ve run into a tough stretch of pitchers, but that can’t affect your confidence. We had a pretty good pitcher on the mound today too.”

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