Logan Morrison felt no weight on his shoulders from the Seattle Mariners’ two-game offensive drought and teetering playoff hopes when he stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning of a scoreless game.
"Nerve-wracking? Are you kidding me?" he asked. "This is awesome. This is what you dream about as a kid."
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Morrison only imagined the possibilities — and with one big swing, he blasted the Mariners forward in the AL postseason race.
Morrison hit a three-run homer, and Seattle boosted its wild-card hopes with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night.
Felix Hernandez struck out 11 during seven innings of three-hit ball as the Mariners pulled within one game of the slumping Oakland Athletics for the second AL wild-card spot.
Although the Angels rested their regulars and scratched ace Jered Weaver a day after clinching the AL West title, Seattle still had to sweat out its third win in nine games, ending a 17-inning scoreless stretch with Morrison’s ninth homer.
"Words can’t describe that feeling," Morrison said. "I just know we’re in a race, and we need every hit we can get. We need every run we can get. We need ever win we can get. We’ve had some offensive struggles lately, but we’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t know how to quit."
After Kendrys Morales singled and pinch-runner James Jones advanced on a bad pickoff throw by Kevin Jepsen (0-2), Morrison deposited a belt-high changeup into the left-field stands.
"We had to lure them into a false sense of security," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said with a grin.
"Everybody thinks that’s easy (to face a lineup of unknowns)," McClendon added. "That’s scary. It’s hard to prepare. You read scouting reports, but you haven’t had first-hand competition against them, so that makes it tough."
Tom Wilhelmsen (3-2) escaped a bases-loaded jam of his own making in the eighth.
Fernando Rodney allowed Hank Conger’s homer in the ninth before finishing his 46th save, passing Kazuhiro Sasaki for the most in a single season in club history.
Wade LeBlanc pitched three-hit ball into the sixth inning of his second start for the MLB-leading Angels, who fielded a lineup of reserves after partying into the wee hours to celebrate clinching their first division title since 2009.
The Angels are still playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their lead over Baltimore for the majors’ best record is down to 2½ games.
LeBlanc significantly improved on his only previous start for the Angels, a 7-1 loss to Miami on Aug. 25. LeBlanc cleared waivers and returned for the Angels’ postseason push, making five solid relief appearances before striking out three Mariners and walking none.
"That’s the life of a swingman, or a long reliever, or a spot starter," LeBlanc said. "I’ve been fortunate to do that in the past, so it wasn’t anything new. Anytime they want to give me the ball, I’m ready for it."
The Angels pulled Weaver about six hours before game time, pushing his next start back to Saturday to put him in line to start the AL Division Series opener Oct. 2.
K FOR KING
Hernandez hit a new career-high for strikeouts in a season when he fanned Shawn O’Malley in the fifth inning for his 233rd. It was his sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season and the 32nd of his career.
Hernandez has pitched superbly in his four September starts as he tries to earn another Cy Young Award, but the Mariners have given him little help at the plate, scoring just four total runs while Hernandez was in those four games.
Angels: Cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton has a new pain in his upper body, and he sat out for the 13th time in 14 games. Scioscia hopes the injury is minor.
Mariners: Taijuan Walker (1-2, 2.96) traveled early to Houston to prepare for the opener of a key series against Brad Peacock and the Astros.
Angels: Hector Santiago (5-8, 3.55) opens Los Angeles’ final home series against the Texas Rangers and Lisalverto Bonilla.