SEATTLE -- The smirk on Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin said it all late Friday night, after a hyped pitching duel lived up to the expectations and the game against the Seattle Mariners came down to the wire.
"One pitch here or there," Melvin said, the sarcasm dripping from his lips, "is the game."
There was no need for clarity of pitch to which Melvin referred, as both the A's manager and batter Nick Punto were ceremoniously ejected from a game that had just ended when Punto watched a high fastball from Seattle closer Fernando Rodney get called for a strike to give the Mariners a 3-2 win.
The final pitch, on a full count with a runner on third base, appeared to be at the letters of Punto's jersey, but home plate umpire James Hoye rung him up to end the game. Punto immediately slammed his helmet on home plate and began jawing with Hoye, who then got an earful from Melvin as he went to pull his player away.
A few minutes later, a red-faced Melvin told reporters: "Tough way to end the game."
The final pitch couldn't overshadow an otherwise splendid pitching matchup between Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Oakland's Jeff Samardzija, both of whom lived up to the billing while putting in eight innings.
Hernandez overcame a rough first inning to keep up his streak of impressive starts before handing the ball to Rodney in the ninth.
"He settled down pretty good and threw the ball extremely well from there," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said.
Hernandez gave up two runs in the top of the first inning, matching the highest total he allowed in the entirety of any of his previous 10 starts, but bounced back to throw seven consecutive scoreless innings before Rodney survived the tense ninth for his American League-best 27th save of the season.
Hernandez (11-2) allowed two runs and six hits while striking out nine in the eight-inning performance.
Asked what he told himself after the first inning, Hernandez said, "I just said, 'No more. No more runs.' I knew Samardzija was a tough pitcher, so I couldn't give up anymore."
Hernandez's final pitch, his 101st of the night, led to a Brandon Moss groundout to end the top of the eighth after the Seattle starter appeared to tweak a leg one pitch earlier. McClendon and trainer Rick Griffin came out to the mound to check on Hernandez, who was suffering from a cramp, and he remained in the game to get Moss out. Hernandez said afterward that he would "for sure" be available to pitch in next week's All-Star game.
Back-to-back two-out doubles by Seattle center fielder James Jones and second baseman Robinson Cano pushed across the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning after the Mariners (50-43) rallied from the early 2-0 deficit. Cano went 2-for-3 with the RBI double and has now had three consecutive multiple-hit games.
Samardzija (1-1) allowed three earned runs and five hits in an eight-inning complete game for the A's (58-35). Seattle first baseman Logan Morrison hit a leadoff home run in the second inning to cut the A's early lead to 2-1, then the Mariners tied the score on an Endy Chavez sacrifice fly in the third.
Cano drove in the eventual winner with a two-out double to score Jones easily from second in the bottom of the sixth.
"The only bad pitch (Samardzija) made was the one Morrison hit out," Melvin said. "Every other pitch was a good pitch."
Seattle's Hernandez extended his streak of consecutive games pitching seven or more innings while allowing two runs or fewer to 11 on Friday, despite a shaky first inning that saw the A's get three hits and two runs against him.
Oakland right fielder Stephen Vogt, the A's No. 2 hitter, turned Hernandez's fifth pitch of the game into a solo home run and a 1-0 lead. Vogt hit an 0-2 pitch over the right-field fence, marking only the sixth time in Hernandez's career that he has allowed a homer on an 0-2 pitch.
A's third baseman Josh Donaldson followed that with a one-out single on the next pitch and came around to score from second on shortstop Jed Lowrie's single two batters later to put Oakland up 2-0.
Oakland first baseman Alberto Callaspo came out of the game in the top of the second inning after straining his hamstring running out a ground ball. Melvin said he will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
Rodney made it interesting in the top of the ninth. He came on with Seattle nursing a one-run lead and issued a one-out walk to catcher Derek Norris, who moved to second on a wild pitch. Pinch-hitter Yoenis Cespedes moved Norris to third on a flyout, leaving Punto at the plate with two outs and a runner 90 feet from tying the score.
Rodney caught Punto looking on a 3-2 pitch, causing the Oakland second baseman to spike his helmet into home plate and begin arguing with Hoye, who immediately ejected him. Melvin came out to pull Punto away, only to exchange a few words of his own with Hoye on the way back to the dugout and get ejected as well.
After the game, Rodney was asked whether his final pitch was a strike.
"All of my pitches," he said with a slight grin, "are strikes."
NOTES: Mariners OF Michael Saunders (strained oblique) was placed on the 15-day disabled list before Friday's game. Saunders suffered the injury during an eighth-inning at-bat the previous night. 1B Justin Smoak, who was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma, took the available roster spot. ... The A's rolled out a Friday lineup that was missing all three of its primary starters in the outfield. RF Josh Reddick (knee) is on the disabled list, while CF Coco Crisp (neck) and LF Yoenis Cespedes (day off) were not in the lineup. ... Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said Friday that he intends to give C Jesus Sucre his first start on Saturday while giving Mike Zunino the day off. ... Oakland RHP Jeff Samardzija was making his second start with the A's after being traded from the Chicago Cubs earlier in the month. Samardzija went 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA with the Cubs before the July 5 trade.