SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez was sharp and Dee Gordon brilliant, but the biggest moment of the game for the surging Mariners came from the team's biggest bat.
Nelson Cruz's loud and towering two-out, three-run homer on the first pitch he saw in the fifth inning broke a taut tie and propelled Seattle to a 6-3 win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.
The Mariners held on over the late innings for their third consecutive victory and sixth in their last seven.
"Nellie has a pretty good idea of what he's looking for when he goes up there," Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Cruz. "Certainly, he was looking for a pitch. He got it, and he didn't miss it."
A's right-hander Andrew Triggs kept Oakland in a 1-1 deadlock through four innings, but things unraveled in the fifth. Cruz hammered Triggs' first pitch, a slider, over the fence in left-center to give Seattle a lead it would not relinquish.
"Just one pitch, bad pitch," Triggs said. "You can't give them too many chances. It's frustrating."
Cruz wasn't the only player frustrating the A's on Tuesday. Gordon, the Mariners' leadoff man, went 5 for 5 with two stolen bases, becoming the third player in Mariners history to record four hits in back-to-back games. And Hernandez (4-2) was in vintage form, twirling six innings and giving up three runs on three hits while striking out seven to tie a season high and walking four.
Entering the game, Hernandez had a 2.61 career ERA vs. Oakland. Afterward, Hernandez was asked about the secret to his success against the A's. He laughed and knocked a few times on the wooden set of drawers in his locker.
"I don't know," Hernandez said. "I have no idea why. I just go out and compete every day."
Servais had some ideas. He mentioned the recent improvement in Hernandez's curveball, which makes his changeup better. Hernandez struck out A's slugger Khris Davis twice on changeups.
Solid defense, including two double plays, helped the Mariners' cause. And so did Gordon, who has 11 hits in his last three games.
"We talk about all the power and the home runs and the strikeouts and how the game is changing a little bit, but it still goes to show you (the value of) putting the bat on the ball, what the speed can do," Servais said. "It's really fun to watch."
Jed Lowrie gave Oakland a 1-0 lead in the first inning with his seventh home run, but the Mariners answered in the second. After Kyle Seager led off with a ground-rule double, Mike Zunino lined a game-tying double out of the reach of A's left fielder Matt Joyce to knot the game at 1.
Triggs and Hernandez traded scoreless innings until the pivotal bottom of the fifth. Gordon legged out a one-out infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, and Jean Segura worked a walk. After Robinson Cano flied out to the wall in right-center field, Cruz didn't waste any time changing the momentum of the game, connecting on his 410-foot shot.
Triggs (2-1) lost for the first time this year after lasting 4 2/3 innings and giving up four runs on six hits while striking out three and walking four.
The Mariners scored again in the sixth off A's reliever Lou Trivino when Gordon's single, his fourth hit, pushed Ryon Healy to third, setting up Segura for a sacrifice fly to right field. That run proved to be crucial when the A's clawed back in the seventh, scoring twice and chasing Hernandez in the process.
The right-hander walked Davis to lead off the frame and Matt Olson doubled to right, ending Hernandez's outing. Reliever Nick Vincent gave up a run-scoring infield single to Mark Canha and a RBI fielder's choice to Chad Pinder before striking out Jonathan Lucroy to end the threat.
Juan Nicasio pitched a perfect eighth for the Mariners, striking out two, and the Mariners scored their final run of the game in the bottom of that inning on Segura's RBI groundout. Edwin Diaz struck out two in a scoreless ninth to notch his league-leading 12th save.
Lowrie's homer came in his first at-bat of May. Lowrie set an A's record for hits in April with 35.
Mariners: RHPs Erasmo Ramirez (strained right Teres Major) and Dan Altavilla (right AC joint inflammation) were placed on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday. The Mariners recalled OF Guillermo Heredia and RHP Casey Lawrence from Triple-A Tacoma.
A's: Oakland welcomes its former starter, Brett Anderson, back to the team for Wednesday's start after a recent minor league deal and four-start stint for Triple-A Nashville in which he went 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA. Anderson, a lefty, made his Major League debut at 21 for the A's in 2009 and played for the team until 2014. He pitched for the Cubs and Blue Jays last season.
Mariners: James Paxton (1-1, 5.12 ERA) starts Wednesday's game for Seattle and will try to build on his last start, a six-inning, 10-strikeout outing against the Indians on April 26 in which he gave up two runs on five hits in a no-decision.