And oh what a gem Lilly threw—when Oakland desperately needed one.
Lilly won his sixth straight start and Mark Ellis hit his first career grand slam as the Athletics avoided a three-game sweep by second-place Seattle with a 12-0 win Sunday.
“I think this shows how bad we want to win the West,” Lilly said.
Billy McMillon had three hits and drove in two runs as the defending AL West champions lowered their magic number to win the division to three. The A’s lead the Mariners by four games.
Seattle fell 2 1/2 games behind Boston in the AL wild-card race. The Red Sox won 2-0 at Cleveland.
The Mariners have six games left, including three against the A’s in Seattle next weekend.
“This is obviously a big game, a big opportunity,” Mariners catcher Dan Wilson said. “It’s a completely different race if we win today, completely different. Put it this way, this loss takes it out of our hands if they win three.”
Seattle had 31 hits in the first two games of this series, but managed only four hits against Lilly (12-9) and three relievers.
Harden was scratched because of back spasms and replaced by the left-handed Lilly, who beat Seattle for the first time in eight career starts. He entered 0-4 with a 6.89 ERA against the Mariners.
“We knew he had great stuff,” A’s pitcher Tim Hudson said of Lilly. “But this is showing a new side of him that not a lot of pitchers have—putting your team on your shoulders.”
The A’s built an early lead again, but held onto it this time. They had been ahead in the first two games of this series. Oakland’s 12 runs doubled its combined total from the last three games.
Oakland hammered Gil Meche (15-11) for five runs in the second inning and he didn’t even record an out before he was through. Meche’s outing was his shortest of his career and his second straight poor start.
Meche lasted just 2 1-3 innings in a 10-5 loss at Texas on Sept. 16 and has a 35.10 ERA in his last two outings.
“I couldn’t get out of what I caused,” Meche said. “The whole second inning was like a personal nightmare. Giving up runs like that—I had no damage control. The whole second half has been a bad dream as far as I can tell. I’m giving up runs and I can’t seem to do anything to stop it.”
Adam Melhuse added a pinch-hit two-RBI single for the A’s and Jose Guillen got to test out the broken bone in his left hand with a pinch-hit at-bat in the seventh after the Mariners took out all but one of their regulars. Guillen grounded into a double play.
After Randy Winn led off the second with a double, Lilly retired the next 13 Seattle batters. He struck out seven, walked three and allowed three hits in six innings. He also worked out of a jam in the first inning, when Ichiro Suzuki was on third and Edgar Martinez on first before John Olerud flied out.
“I think he inspired everybody there with his performance those two innings,” Macha said.
Catcher Ramon Hernandez was gutsy, too.
Hernandez, knocked out of the game with a bruised right elbow Saturday following a collision at the plate with Ben Davis, was hit in the left elbow by Meche in the second to load the bases with no outs.
Hernandez remained in the game after being examined at first by trainer Larry Davis, saying he wanted to stay in there for Lilly.
Jermaine Dye hit an RBI single up the middle to break an 0-for-11 slump, and Ellis singled in another run one batter later as the A’s built a 2-0 lead and Julio Mateo started warming up in Seattle’s bullpen.
Meche was done after walking Eric Byrnes to score another run. Mateo immediately gave up an RBI double to McMillon. The Mariners threw out Ellis at the plate for their first out to save a run.
Erubiel Durazo hit a sacrifice fly to make it 5-0.
When Harden was scratched, the Mariners had already beaten Oakland’s other rookie right-hander, Justin Duchscherer, on Saturday, getting 17 total hits. Seattle defeated Hudson on Friday with 14 hits.
Harden, called up from Triple-A Sacramento on July 17, said he believed he could pitch and be effective Sunday, but added, “whatever’s best for the team.”
He said his back has given him problems since he began his pro career in2001 at short-season Class A Vancouver.
Meche fell to 0-3 lifetime in five career starts against the A’s. He threw 45 pitches, 26 for strikes. … The Mariners lead the season series 9-7, going 5-5 in Oakland. … The A’s were in danger of being swept at home for thefirst time since May 7-9 last year against Boston.