SEATTLE – J.A. Happ had a long wait between innings, and it was totally worth it for him and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Happ became the major leagues’ second 20-game winner and Russell Martin and Michael Saunders each hit a two-run homer, lifting Toronto over the Seattle Mariners 10-2 on Tuesday night to move into first in the AL wild-card race.
Toronto moved a game ahead of Baltimore and remained 2 1/2 games ahead of Detroit. Seattle lost for the fourth time in five games and trails Toronto by four games.
Happ was the patient beneficiary when the Jays took the lead with an eight-run fourth inning.
“I actually came back up in the tunnel here and threw a little bit with Josh Thole trying to keep my arm loose,” Happ said. “But, when we’re scoring eight an inning, or six an inning, not sure which one it was, but I’ll definitely take that any day.”
Happ (20-4) allowed two runs, six hits and a walk over five innings, striking out eight while winning for the 14th time in his last 15 decisions. He’s the first Toronto pitcher to reach 20 wins since Roy Halladay in 2008.
“Twenty wins. It’s hard to do at the big league level, the best baseball in the world,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s had some kind of season. He’s going to keep going strong, but it’s quite an accomplishment.”
Martin and Saunders each homered off Hisashi Iwakuma (16-12) during the Blue Jays’ big inning. After catcher Chris Iannetta misplayed Jose Bautista’s pop foul for an error, Bautista singled with one out and Martin followed with his 20th home run. Troy Tulowitzki singled and Saunders followed with his 24th homer to put Toronto up 4-2.
Kevin Pillar doubled and Ezequiel Carrera chased Iwakuma with an RBI single. Devon Travis greeted reliever Nick Vincent with a bloop single down the right-field line, scoring Carrera from first to make it 6-2. Josh Donaldson walked and Edwin Encarnacion capped the inning with a two-run double.
Donaldson opened the sixth with his 35th homer and Encarnacion added an eighth-inning solo homer, his 42nd, for the final two runs.
“We scratched out a couple runs, get a big hit and finally get a lead, started getting some momentum our way,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Unfortunately, the shutdown inning was nonexistent. It got away from us there, some bad pitches, they hit some home runs and got some other hits to fall in for them. They were around the ball all night. We couldn’t get them off it.”
Martin and Saunders became the first Canadian-born teammates in major league history to hit at least 20 home runs in the same season.
“I think Russ and I will tell you that we’re probably more proud than others,” Saunders said. “I don’t think it means a lot to anybody else. But Russ lately has just been on fire, really turned his season around. We’ve leaned on him for the second half of the season.”
The Mariners took a 2-0 lead in the third when Robinson Cano lined a two-run triple off the knee of second baseman Travis that caromed all the way into the right-field corner.
“That one inning, they put a couple on the board, some tough plays,” Gibbons said. “But what he (Happ) did, he held them in check, limited it to two and then our offence took over, which was good to see. We haven’t seen one of those in a while. The first two games here, we played really, really well.”
EXCLUSIVE COMPANY FOR HAPP
Happ became the sixth Blue Jay with 20 wins, joining Halladay, Roger Clemens, Jack Morris, Pat Hentgen and David Wells. The total ties him with Wells in 2000 for the most victories by a Toronto left-hander.
Mariners: RHP Taijuan Walker had no issues after taking a line drive off his pitching arm in the first inning on Monday night. “He feels fine. There’s nothing there,” manager Scott Servais said.
MARINERS AFFILIATE MOVES
Seattle will have two new minor league affiliates in 2017. The Mariners announced a two-year agreement with the Arkansas Travelers in the Double-A Texas League and a four-year deal with the Modesto Nuts in the Class A California League. Arkansas replaces Jackson, which won the Southern League title. Modesto replaces Bakersfield, which was contracted from the California League.
Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (13-2, 3.17 ERA) gets the start in the afternoon series finale at Safeco Field. Sanchez is 2-1 with a 4.65 ERA and four no decisions in his last seven starts. He lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his last start, giving up six runs on five hits.
Mariners: RHP Felix Hernandez (11-6, 3.79) allowed six runs — five earned — and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings in his last start, a 6-0 loss vs. Houston. He is 7-2 in 12 starts since coming off the DL (right calf strain) on July 20.