Seattle wrapped up manager Lloyd McClendon's first season with an 87-75 record, a 16-win improvement over 2013. It's the franchise's first winning mark since 2009, just the third winning season in the past 11 years and the best record since an 88-win effort in 2007.
The finish was bittersweet for the Mariners, who were cheered from start to finish by a crowd of 40,823 even after the A's finished off their game with Seattle still in the fifth.
"Obviously, this was a very emotional day for a lot of reasons," McClendon said. "But when I took the job, I said I thought this was a golden era for the Seattle Mariners, and they haven't let me down. And I think it's only going to get better. I'm excited. My unit out there is excited. They're a little disappointed right now, but they had a heck of a year."
The Safeco crowd groaned in unison when the A's final score was posted, then gave a standing ovation in appreciation for the team's efforts in taking the drama all the way to the final day.
"That was one of my proudest moments," McClendon said. "I thought it said a lot about our fans."
Hernandez, 28, who gave up eight runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings in his previous start in Toronto, bounced back with a dominant outing against the Angels, allowing just one hit with no walks and seven strikeouts. He made his case for a second AL Cy Young Award, finishing 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA and a career-high 248 strikeouts in 236 innings.
Chris Sale of the White Sox held the ERA lead, at 2.17, before Hernandez's final outing gave him his second AL ERA title and the lowest ERA of his career.
Michael Saunders laced two run-scoring doubles and catcher Mike Zunino delivered a two-run single to give Hernandez a four-run lead before he was replaced by Brandon Maurer one out into the sixth, after the A's had clinched the berth. McClendon exchanged a big hug with Hernandez, who then tipped his cap to the roaring crowd during a slow exit from the field.
"That was awesome," Hernandez said. "That was really good. I just got a chance to thank the fans for all their support all year. I love being here. I love the fans. That was really great."
Hernandez said that pitching with a potential playoff berth on the line for the first time in his 10-year career took him to a new level.
"All my starts, I'm trying to give 100 percent," he said. "But today was more fun. We're trying for a spot in the playoffs, and I was just trying to go out and do my thing. It was good."
McClendon sent Brad Miller as a defensive replacement for Robinson Cano midway through the sixth inning, allowing the fans to toast their new first-year star as well. Cano called his first season in Seattle "a great experience" despite ending a game shy of the playoffs.
"It was great to see our fans -- not only myself, but with the way they [sent] Felix out of the game -- they really appreciate what we've done and they know we fight, we battle, we want to give that to the city," Cano said. "Things didn't end the way we want. Sometimes, things happen. So maybe next year we'll be a better team and end up in first place. You never know."
The Mariners put some heat on the A's by winning their final four games, but in the end, a tough stretch in mid-September in which they went 4-11 -- a span that ended with a five-game losing streak -- proved too much to overcome.
First baseman Logan Morrison finished his strong September with a 2-for-4 day and two runs scored. Morrison hit .342 with 15 runs, five home runs and 11 RBIs in 24 games in the final month to lift his final average to .262.
Cano went 1-for-3 to finish his first season in Seattle with a .314 average, the first .300 hitter for the Mariners since Ichiro Suzuki in 2010. Kyle Seager went 0-for-4 in the finale but finished with team leads in both home runs (25) and RBIs (96).
The Angels finished with the best record in the AL, but skipper Mike Scioscia gave a tip of the cap to the Mariners even as his team heads to the playoffs.
"They had a great season," said Scioscia. "Once they got their rotation back, with [Hisashi] Iwakuma and [James] Paxton, their bullpen became shut-down. They're going to be tough. It shows how tough our division is, for as well as Seattle played to not get in the playoffs, and they're going to be tough again next year. We have our work cut out for us."