A's continue dominance of Mariners

A's continue dominance of Mariners

OAKLAND -- Before Betty Swisher succumbed to cancer, A's first baseman Nick Swisher used to call the grandmother who helped raise him to calm his nerves before every game.

On Monday, the first anniversary of Betty's passing, Nick placed a pregame phone call to Betty's husband, Don.

"I started thinking about her last night, and she was the first thing I thought of this morning, so it just felt right to call my grandpa," Swisher said. "It's a rough time for all of us, but he sounded great, and that did me a world of good."

Several hours after the call, Swisher did the A's a world of good with a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning that gave them a 5-4 win over the Mariners at McAfee Coliseum. And in the bittersweet glow of victory, he insisted that Betty played a hand in it all.

"She pushed it," he said of the line drive off Seattle righty Rafael Soriano that barely eluded the glove of leaping right fielder Ichiro Suzuki before sneaking over the wall. "She pushed it away from Ichiro. ... I'm 100 percent convinced of that, because I did not hit that ball well at all.

"It was a bad day this morning, but it's a great day tonight. It's just awesome to be able to share something like this with my family. We all needed a little pick-me-up, and this was pretty awesome."

Immediately after rounding the bases to the sound of as much thunder as the 21,859 at McAfee Coliseum could muster, Swisher, who before the game inked the tape wrapping his forearms with Betty's initials ("BLS" is also tattooed above his heart), had a brief, poignant conversation with outfielder Milton Bradley, his partner in a detailed dugout celebration after either one of them goes deep.

"Milton and I were talking, wondering if my grandma and his [deceased] grandpa were up there doing the home run dance," Swisher said.

Mark Ellis and Frank Thomas don't have home run dances, but they, too, cleared the walls as the A's survived a shaky five-inning outing from All-Star lefty Barry Zito to extend their winning streak over the Mariners to 13 games.

Righty Chad Gaudin took over for Zito and worked 2 2/3 scoreless innings, lefty Joe Kennedy celebrated his return from the disabled list by striking out the only batter he faced to pick up the win, and righty Justin Duchscherer picked Ichiro off of at first base to end the game and push the A's lead in the American League West to a season-high 5 1/2 games over the Angels and idle Rangers.

"It was a pretty sweet team win," said Zito, who gave up four runs on seven hits. "It was kind of a microcosm of the whole season. Whenever someone needs to be picked up, guys pick him up. Tonight, I was the guy everyone picked up."

Zito, who threw 104 pitches, has a 6.91 ERA and has allowed 10 homers over his past five starts. A's manager Ken Macha suggested that his ace might be going through a dead-arm phase and hoped Zito was merely in a "lull." Zito used the same word in a different, more encouraged context.

"There's no fatigue, but it is a little mechanical lull," Zito explained. "It's been going on for about a month now, but [after the game] I went and looked at some tape, and I saw what's been going on right away. It was really obvious. For whatever reason, I'm not staying tall -- straight up and down -- at the top of my delivery.

"But it's exciting in a way, because now I know what the problem is, and now we can start working on a plan to get it fixed."

Zito fell into an early hole when Ben Broussard hit a two-run homer in the top of the second, but the A's cut the lead in half in the bottom half on an RBI single from Swisher. Zito wiggled out of a jam in the third, leaving runners at second and third with a popup and two strikeouts, and a solo homer from Ellis tied it in the fourth, but Willie Bloomquist's first homer since September 2004 -- also off Zito -- and an RBI groundout by Raul Ibanez put the M's back in front.

"They worked [Zito] pretty good," Macha said. "But the encouraging thing for me was that third inning. He kept us in the game right there. At 4-2, you still have a chance."

Especially with Thomas and Swisher swinging hot bats. Thomas took over the team lead in homers with a mammoth shot into the second deck off M's starter Jarrod Washburn in the bottom of the fifth, giving him 18 RBIs in the past 18 games, and Swisher's rocket in the eighth, which game him 10 RBIs over his past nine games, pulled him back into a tie with Thomas at 25 homers each.

Duchscherer, who picked up his third save while closer Huston Street got the night off after saving all three games during a weekend sweep of the Devil Rays, said fellow setup man Kiko Calero essentially called Swisher's shot.

"Kiko said to me in the sixth inning, 'Soriano's gonna come in and give it up,'" Duchscherer said. "I said, 'How do you know?' He said, 'I've watched this game a time or two.' And when it happened, he tapped my arm and said, 'I told you.' "

"We didn't see Soriano at his best," Seattle skipper Mike Hargrove said. "He didn't have his normal velocity. He was just missing his fastball, and one of them he threw [to Swisher], he happened to get up."

It marked the fifth time this season that Swisher and his mentor, Thomas, have gone deep in the same game.

"The student is trying to keep up with the teacher," Swisher said. "It ain't easy chasing a dang Hall of Famer, though."

Kennedy made his first outing since May 9 look easy, baffling Broussard on five pitches -- the last was a 92-mph fastball -- to end the top of the eighth.

"I was a lot less nervous than I thought I'd be," Kennedy said. "It just felt good to get back out there, and it felt good that Macha had the confidence to bring me in with the game tight like that."

Nobody felt better than Swisher, however, when he took Duchscherer's perfect pickoff throw and dropped his game-ending tag on Ichiro, who had singled softly to left field with two out in the ninth.

"Anyone who picks off Ichiro in that situation obviously has a great move, because that guy is no joke, and he wanted second base bad," Swisher said. "But you know what? That was a perfect way to end this night."

Perhaps Betty did some pushing there, too.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.