SEATTLE — At this point of the season, the Oakland Athletics have to take their positives where ever they can get them.
In a 5-1 loss to Seattle on Friday night — Oakland’s 10th in 11 games — the bright spot was Zach Neal, who retired all 15 batters he faced to become just the second reliever in club history to pitch at least five perfect innings. The other was Dennis Eckersley, who pitched six perfect innings of relief in 1987.
“He’s come a long way,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s had two days off, and gives us five innings of nothing against a team who looked like they were going to score 30 runs in the first couple innings.”
Seattle, which has won seven of nine, is one game behind Toronto for the AL wild-card second spot. The Mariners also trail Detroit by a half-game.
Neal came on with one aboard in the third after starter Raul Alcantara (1-3) was tagged for five runs on four homers — including two by Robinson Cano — in two-plus innings.
“With Raul today, balls were over the middle of the plate, and unfortunately more mid-thigh than we’ve seen him, so he just had a tough night,” Melvin said.
Cano had a two-run homer in the first. He added his 38th home run in the third, a solo shot that gave him 100 RBIs for the season. Norichika Aoki and Nelson Cruz also homered off Alcantara.
Enter Neal, who was 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA in two starts against Seattle, giving up 12 runs in 9 1/3 innings pitched.
“The last time you all talked to me here I had just given up seven runs in four innings in my first big-league start,” Neal said. “So it kind of came full circle. It feels good to go out like that, especially here.”
Taijuan Walker (8-11) allowed one run on two hits in six innings, but walked five in a 113-pitch outing. The only run came on Ryon Healy’s 13th homer to open the sixth. Evan Scribner, Nick Vincent and Steve Cishek each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
“It was just one of those weird starts where one hitter everything was locked in, the next hitter it was all over the place,” Walker said. “But, I just kept fighting.”
Cano drove a 1-1 pitch over the wall in center to give the Mariners to a 2-0 lead in the first after a leadoff infield single by Aoki.
Aoki made it 3-0 in the second with his fourth homer just inside the right field foul pole.
Cano opened the third with another home run to center and Cruz followed with his 42nd homer to make it 5-0.
The A’s loaded the bases in the fifth on two walks and a two-out error by second baseman Cano, but Walker retired Stephen Vogt on a popout.
Neal, who was 1-3 with a 5.74 ERA in six starts, has not allowed a run in six of his last seven relief appearances.
“I’ve just been doing the same thing I always had,” Neal said. “I think if there’s one thing, it’s understanding what I do. Learning to throw my sinker to both sides of the plate, throwing strikes just like I always have. Just competing. I knew this last month was going to be a big month for me, and I was going to give it everything I had.”
HORN ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
Oakland assistant athletic trainer Walt Horn announced he would retire at the end of the season. Horn has spent 39 years as an athletic trainer in the Athletics’ organization, including the last nine seasons with the major league club.
“If you know Walt, this is one of the tremendous gentlemen in the game,” Melvin said. “He told me he was thinking about this a while ago, and I’ve been trying to talk him out of it.”
Athletics: RF Danny Valencia was originally in the lineup, but was a late scratch due to neck soreness. Matt Olson started in right.
Athletics: Rookie RHP Jharel Cotton (2-0, 1.44 ERA) makes his fifth career start since being called up from Triple-A Nashville on Sept. 7. He has not allowed more than one earned run in any of his four starts, lasting at least 5 2/3 innings in each.
Mariners: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (16-12, 3.96 ERA) has been Seattle’s most consistent pitcher over the course of the season. His 16 victories are a career high, but he is 2-5 in his last eight starts. Iwakuma is 4-0 against Oakland this season.