SEATTLE -- Needing an ace performance to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Mariners got seven scoreless innings from Felix Hernandez on Wednesday and Robinson Cano drove in Guillermo Heredia with a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 12th as Seattle avoided being swept at Safeco Field with a dramatic 2-1 win over the Blue Jays.
A two-base throwing error on third baseman Josh Donaldson put Heredia on to open the 12th, and Heredia advanced when Donaldson dropped the ball as the Blue Jays tried to make a play at third on a sacrifice by Ben Gamel. That set up Cano for the game-winner off of R.A. Dickey, who entered in the 12th as Toronto's 10th pitcher of the day.
"We got a couple breaks," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "We hadn't gotten many here at home. We needed it and took advantage of it. Nice win. We're not dead yet. I've said it a few times. You've got to get all the way six feet under, and we're not quite there yet. We'll keep hanging in there. We have the off-day tomorrow, and hopefully we'll have a good road trip."
After Baltimore also lost Wednesday, Toronto maintained its one-game lead over the Orioles for the top Wild Card spot in the American League at 83-69. The Mariners moved to two games back of the Orioles in the chase for the No. 2 Wild Card at 80-72 with 10 games remaining.
Freeman grounded out to end a bases-loaded threat in the 11th against Ryan Tepera, and Seattle stranded a runner at third in the ninth, as well.
Hernandez outdueled Aaron Sanchez for seven frames, but the Blue Jays tied the game at 1 when Bautista blasted a solo home run off Mariners rookie closer Edwin Diaz with one out in the top of the ninth.
After Toronto won the first two games of the series and had a huge contingent of fans come down from Canada to provide vocal support for the visitors, Hernandez shouted, "This is my house," as he was leaving the field after the setting down the Jays in order in his final frame.
Indeed, Hernandez was masterful as he allowed just two hits with three walks and four strikeouts in a 112-pitch outing.
"I've never seen so many Blue Jays fans in Seattle," Hernandez said. "That was unbelievable. That was the shortest King's Court I've ever seen. I couldn't even hear the King's Court. I knew I had to step up a little bit more, and that's why I yelled after the seventh inning, 'This is my house.'"
The 24-year-old Sanchez was strong as well, giving up just one run on four hits over six innings.
"Both sides were really good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "You go back to Sanchez and King Felix. Both of them were on. They plate that go-ahead run on a little gork hit. [Norichika] Aoki's tough, he battles you. Then we come back and tie with the big home run. We had some chances, as did they. The pitching on both sides was really good."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Some sweet Sucre: As the Mariners' third catcher and a career .178 hitter in 214 at-bats coming into this season, Jesus Sucre hasn't seen a lot of playing time since rejoining the club as a September callup. But Servais likes his history of working with Hernandez, so the 28-year-old Venezuelan -- who missed much of the year with a fractured right leg -- was in the lineup Wednesday and doubled and scored on Aoki's single in the third. Sucre wound up going 3-for-3 before being lifted for a pinch-runner in the seventh, and he is batting .474 (9-for-19) on the season after going 8-for-11 his past three starts.
"He doesn't take himself too seriously," Servais said. "He just goes up there and tries to make contact. He's not trying to hit homers; he's not trying to be a hero. Plus, we only play him against Cole Hamels and Aaron Sanchez, the really good guys."
Escaping the jam: Sanchez had another quality start on Wednesday afternoon, but the outing could have gone a lot differently if not for an escape act in the bottom of the third. After Sucre scored in the third, the Mariners loaded the bases with two outs. Sanchez responded by getting Kyle Seager to hit a comebacker to the mound for the final out of the frame. That was the only real danger Sanchez would encounter, but a lack of run support meant he was still saddled with the no-decision.
"Tough-luck series today, but it was a good series overall," Sanchez said. "Our bats came alive yesterday. We're not worried. Every game means something, and that's something that is not new to us."
The King escapes: Hernandez's biggest challenge came in the fourth, when Donaldson led off with a double. Edwin Encarnacion then laced a hard grounder back up the middle that bounced high off Hernandez's left foot. Cano fielded the deflection and threw out Encarnacion, but Servais and Seattle's trainer hustled to the mound to check on their ace. Hernandez stayed in the game after a couple practice tosses and wound up stranding Donaldson at third by getting groundouts from Bautista and Russell Martin, then didn't allow a hit the rest of his outing.
"Felix really stepped up his game," Servais said. "I'm happy for him. He had a tough time the last time he took the ball here in the homestand, and he needed to kind of redeem himself and get after it. And he did. Hopefully, he's going to pitch in a lot more big games. There hasn't been a lot for him over 10 years or whatever it's been. He needs to pitch in more of them. The more you're in them, the better you usually get with them." More >
Bautista Bomb: Bautista has a flair for the dramatic, and he was back to his old tricks during the ninth inning. With Toronto trailing, 1-0, Bautista unloaded on a 2-2, 98-mph fastball from Diaz. According to Statcast™, Bautista's 19th of the year was projected to travel 424 feet and left his bat at 107 mph. The no-doubter to left was Bautista's second home run of the month and first since Sept. 12.
"It was a great game, both sides battled," Bautista said. "We had chances and didn't come through, and we made some mistakes. That's the way it goes. A lot of games left, and the position we're in, we just have to finish strong. I think that should be the focus." More >
"I'm just trying to do everything I can to prevent that run from scoring. Fortunately, we got that run across in the last inning, or it doesn't matter. It's just whatever I can do to try to help the team win. I was fortunate to get an opportunity. The play was there for me to make, and I had just enough of it to make it." -- Freeman, on his game-saving catch in the 10th
"It's awesome any time you can come to somebody else's park and sell out the stands with your fans. That's a good feeling. These guys don't get to see us much out here. For them to get that opportunity, it's fun for us." -- Sanchez, on the crowd support in Seattle
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The win was Seattle's eighth walk-off of the season, its most since a club-record 13 in 2009. It was Cano's seventh career walk-off and first on a sacrifice fly.
Dickey, who entered in the bottom of the 12th inning, made his first relief appearance July 21, 2012, for the Mets in a game vs. the Dodgers.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will enjoy an off-day on Thursday after returning from a seven-game road trip on the West Coast and before opening a four-game series at home vs. the Yankees. Left-hander Francisco Liriano (1-2, 3.89 ERA with Toronto) will take the mound in the series opener vs. New York's Bryan Mitchell with first pitch scheduled for 7:07 pm. ET on Friday night at Rogers Centre.
Mariners: After the team's final off-day of the season on Thursday, James Paxton (4-7, 3.88 ERA) opens a three-game series at Minnesota on Friday at 5:10 p.m. PT. The 27-year-old lefty gave up just four hits and two runs in seven innings in his last outing, but took a 2-1 loss to the Astros.