This was like rolling in a birdie putt on 18 after a disappointing round. It renews hope that better times are still within reach.
The Mariners closed their pre-break schedule Sunday by getting six vintage innings from Felix Hernandez in a 4-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field.
Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer against Oakland rookie Daniel Gossett and became the seventh different player in Mariners history to reach 70 RBIs prior to the All-Star break.
Backup catcher Chooch Ruiz contributed three singles to a seven-hit attack as the Mariners salvaged a split in their four-game series against last-place Oakland and won for just the fourth time in 14 games.
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The victory sent the Mariners into the break at 43-47 with 70 games remaining once their season resumes Friday against the White Sox in Chicago.
"We need Felix more than anything else," Cruz said. "It was nice to see him dominate. He was really on top of his game. Hopefully, that leads to a good second half."
Hernandez (4-3) gave up just two hits in throwing 100 pitches in his six innings. He struck out eight and walked three before Tony Zych, Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz completed the shutout.
"I had pretty good stuff," Hernandez said. "From the fastball to the changeup, everything was perfect. I made a good adjustment in the bullpen (after a disappointing start against Kansas City).
"I wanted to get on top of the ball. I did that, and I was able to make good pitches."
Gossett (1-4) gave up three runs and five hits on 4 1/3 innings.
Hernandez pitched around a two-on, no-out jam in the second inning, and Matt Joyce’s one-out double in the third.
That allowed the Mariners to take the lead after Jarrod Dyson opened the third with a walk. Dyson raced to third on Ruiz’s single to left — taking full advantage of Khris Davis’ noodle arm.
That extra base permitted Dyson to score when Jean Segura grounded into a double play.
The Mariners’ pushed their lead to 3-0 in the fourth, thanks to their two All-Stars. Robinson Cano led off with a double into the left-center gap, and Cruz followed with a 402-foot homer to center.
Cruz’s homer was his 17th, which matched Cano for the club lead, and boosted his league-leading RBI count to 70.
The Mariners knocked out Gossett in the fifth when Dyson and Ruiz opened the inning with singles. Gossett struck out Segura before the Athletics went to their bullpen for lefty Daniel Coulombe.
The threat fizzled when Dyson was thrown out stealing third.
It stayed 3-0 until the Mariners added a run in the seventh inning on Ruiz’s RBI single against John Axford.
"A really positive note going into the break," manager Scott Servais said. "It’s been a struggle for us the last 10-12 days. Felix Hernandez stepped up today. Absolutely the best we’ve seen him all year."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Cano compounded a fielding error in the second inning with a mental mistake. With a runner at first, Cano mishandled Jed Lowrie’s potential double-play grounder to second.
Cano recovered the ball after the bobble and had a chance for a sure out at first. Instead, he tried for the force at second — and that play wasn’t close. Hernandez pitched around the mistake.
PLUS: Ruiz started for the first time since Monday and went 3-for-3 with an RBI. He raised his average from .194 to .227…Dyson reached base in all three plate appearances with two singles and a walk. He boosted his average to a season-high .258…Vincent stranded an inherited runner in a scoreless eighth inning. He has not allowed a run in 20 innings over 21 appearances this season at Safeco Field.
MINUS: Segura went 0-for-4 and hit into two double plays. That dropped his average to .349, and he surrendered his lead in the American League batting race…Rzepczynski walked the only batter he faced…Dyson was thrown out in attempting to steal third in the fifth inning. He is 20-for-25 on the season.
STAT PACK: Cruz is the first Mariner to reach 70 RBIs at the All-Star break since Raul Ibanez had 70 in 2006. It has been done 12 time in franchise history by seven different players.
QUOTABLE: Cruz and Cano departed for Miami after the victory to join the American League team for the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
"I hope both of our guys don’t play very much in the All-Star Game," Servais admitted. "Give them one at-bat and get them out. They need the rest. It has been a struggle physically.
"Robby with the (strained right quadriceps muscle) earlier. Nelson with something going on all year (strained right calf muscle and a bruised right knee).
"They need the down time, and we certainly need them back healthy when we get going in the second half."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners have placed right-hander Rob Whalen on the restricted list while he deals with "personal issues." Whalen is 0-7 with a 6.58 ERA in 10 starts at Triple-A Tacoma. The move means the Mariners have two openings on their 40-man roster…Tacoma outfielder Tyler O’Neill left the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Sacramento (Giants) because of a hamstring injury. He didn’t play Sunday but is expected to be available later this week after the Triple-A All-Star break.
ON DECK: The Mariners have a four-game break for the All-Star Game before resuming their season Friday with the start of a three-game series against the White Sox in Chicago.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners