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Blue Jays series remains big as Mariners take 3 of 4 from Chicago

The Mariners are 5-1 on their homestand heading into Monday's series opener against Toronto. (AP)

While a four-game sweep of the White Sox would have been nice, it’s hard to complain about taking three of four in the series and improving to 5-1 on the homestand.

With the Blue Jays heading to town, the Mariners did what they needed to do in order to be in position to take a big swing at a wild-card competitor. With both teams just 1 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot, meaningful August baseball in Seattle continues, and it’s about to get fun with the rivals from the north descending on Safeco Field.

Blue Jays fans typically make their loud and lively presence known at Safeco Field, more so than any other team’s fans that travel to see them here. It’s a somewhat strange sight to see as I find it nearly impossible to believe that the Blue Jays are considered a national team, but better to embrace it in this day and age. It’s good to see passionate baseball fans regardless of motivation. But seriously, Toronto is like four Canadian NHL teams away!

I asked pitcher James Paxton about his true allegiance as a fan growing up in British Columbia, and he said it was to the team closest in proximity, the Mariners.

“I was a Mariners guy,” he said in his interview for the pregame show. “I was always a huge Randy Johnson fan so that pulled me toward the Mariners, but I am trying to turn the Vancouver crowd of Toronto Blue Jays fans into Seattle Mariners fans. Give it some time and I think we (he and fellow Canadian Michael Saunders) will make it happen.”

Get to that. In the meantime, get ready for some fun tonight if you are headed to the game. Blue Jays fans will be hard to see let alone hear in a sea of 30,000 yellow “K-cloths,” the newest King’s Court accessories. After a weekend of big crowds, the players and manager are looking forward to another nearly full house Monday. Lloyd McClendon believes these crowds are giving his team a timely boost.

“I hope we are making our fans proud,” he said following Sunday’s 4-2 win over the White Sox. “You play this game, obviously you know everyone likes to get paid but there is nothing like cheers, particularly at home. It’s nice the type of support we are getting.”

McClendon added that former Mariners manager Lou Piniella made a good point about the team while he was in town to be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame on Saturday.

“Lou hit the nail right on the head. We’re good and we have the chance to do something special. Our guys believe and I hope our fans do, too.”

With Felix Hernandez on the hill tonight there is plenty of believing, according to new Mariner Austin Jackson.

“We couldn’t have a better guy going for us,” he said Sunday following his four-RBI performance. “A great deal of confidence with him going on the mound. I’ve faced him before. It’s not a fun at-bat and hopefully it’s not fun for them.”

Felix will look to keep alive his MLB record streak of 15 straight starts of seven innings or more while allowing two or fewer runs, and more importantly, help the team to its sixth win of the homestand. If all goes well, it should be a virtual off day for the bullpen, something that Dominic Leone is getting used to.

“It’s the King’s day and we expect nothing but what the King can produce,” he said. “There is a reason why he is the best in baseball and why he is on this streak. He just finds a way, whether he’s got his best stuff or not, to grind out innings, to grind out wins. For (Monday) I expect nothing less. I expect a nice relaxing day out in that pen just to watch him throw.”

The Blue Jays will be coming into town a bit tired after their 19-inning game against Detroit in Toronto Sunday afternoon. They exhausted their bullpen and had Wednesday starter R.A. Dickey warming up when Jose Bautista hit the game-winner. They did bring in another arm but they will need innings from starter Drew Hutchinson if they don’t want to make a complete mess of the bullpen one game into the three-game series.

We shall see if this is a situation the Mariners can take advantage of. It is also okay to keep an eye on others, according to McClendon.

“I hope so,” he answered when asked if his players were scoreboard watching. “Hell, it’s getting to that point. If they’re not excited now I don’t know when the heck will they ever get excited. The biggest scoreboard we need to watch is ours, taking care of our own business.”

And they have been doing that in August, going 6-3 while averaging 4.44 runs per game. Good trends at a good time.

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