With playoff hopes gone, Mariners wrap up season against A's

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mariners starter Felix Hernandez hasn't gotten to pitch in many truly meaningful games in his impressive career, having never been to the postseason, and that won't change Sunday afternoon.

A game that looked like it might carry more weight than any of Hernandez's 358 previous starts became painfully, familiarly irrelevant when the Mariners lost to Oakland on Saturday night.

That loss officially eliminated Seattle (86-74) from wild-card contention and led to another meaningless 162nd game of the season.

"We'll play hard," disappointed Seattle manager Scott Servais said after Saturday's 9-8 loss to Oakland in a 10-inning classic. "I expect us to win the ballgame. ... We'll give a good effort, no doubt."

But the Mariners are human, so forgive them if it's hard to bounce back from an emotional game that effectively ended Seattle's postseason hopes.

"It was a great run," slugger Nelson Cruz lamented after the loss. "I've played a lot of games (during an 11-year career), and it was an amazing run."

Seattle's final gasp came with two comebacks in the late innings. Cruz delivered a two-run homer that tied the score 7-7 in the seventh, then defensive replacement Ben Gamel came through with an RBI single to tie it again at 8-8 in the eighth.

Only after Oakland's Joey Wendle pushed across the go-ahead run with an RBI double in the top of the 10th and the Mariners stranded Gamel on third base with a game-ending flyout did the never-say-die season take its final breath.

"We did everything we could to extend the season," Servais said afterward.

The dramatic win didn't do anything for Oakland's postseason prospects -- the A's have been out of realistic contention for most of the past few weeks -- but manager Bob Melvin said the way his young team was able to hold off the desperate Mariners was a good sign for the growth of a team in full rebuilding mode.

"This is really going to serve (the players) well in the future, knowing that they can play in this type of atmosphere," Melvin said.

For Hernandez, whose spot in the rotation happened to line up with what may have been a make-or-break game in the season finale, it's just another meaningless October start.

The only time Hernandez has taken the mound this late in the season with chips still on the table came two years ago when he went into the final day of the year with a shot at giving Seattle a playoff berth and dominated for four innings.

After the fourth, word got out that the A's had just finished a playoff-clinching win in another part of the country, leaving Hernandez and the Mariners without any kind of incentive.

Hernandez pitched another inning before coming off to a huge ovation in another lost season.

This time around, he won't have nearly as much adrenaline. Once again, the Mariners are playing for pride.

"Our guys will show up and play," Servais said. "It'll be a little weird. We've played a lot of big games over the past few weeks. We've had four or five times when (reporters) said: 'If you don't win today, you're done. And we won them all."

Until Saturday night.