MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Cano electrifies Seattle's Wild Card chase

In pursuit of postseason return, Mariners follow star second baseman's lead

Cano electrifies Seattle's Wild Card chase

SEATTLE -- It's not fair.

Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano makes the game look so easy.

"He is one of the most relaxed players I've ever seen on the field," said journeyman reliever Joe Beimel. "He knows he's good, and when you know you are good, you can go out and play relaxed."

Cano certainly has the folks in Seattle excited. It's August and they are still talking October.

Oh, the Mariners still have a ways to go before they can celebrate, but they are definitely at a point where they can enjoy what's transpiring at Safeco Field, where Seattle is in pursuit of its first postseason appearance since 2001 and what would be only the club's fifth since its inception in 1977.

The Mariners still don't even control their own destiny. That 11-1 victory against another postseason hopeful, Toronto, on Monday night left Seattle one game back of Detroit in the quest for the second American League Wild Card, but it put them one game in front of the Blue Jays, who will provide the opposition for the Mariners at Safeco Field again on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

But the Mariners are very much a postseason contender, and as big as Felix Hernandez was in stretching his record for consecutive starts of at least seven innings with two or fewer runs (earned or unearned) to 16 on Monday night, it was Cano who put on the clinic of the finer things in baseball.

Cano showed his awareness and athleticism in the field. He showed his patience and power at the plate. And Cano showed his teammates the path to success in a game of significance, playing another contender at home where more than half the crowd of 41,168 showed up in support of the visiting Jays.

"When you are a star and have the kind of confidence he has, it sets a tone," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "Winning is contagious. Good players make players around them better. It's not secret he's a star. ... The element he brings to the club is an element we needed."

Cano doesn't just know how to play the game. He knows how to play the game when it counts.

In nine years with the Yankees, Cano learned from the likes of double-play partner Derek Jeter, and he learned how to cope with the big-game pressure that come with seven postseason appearances covering 51 games.

"When you play in New York, it's every day like this," Cano said of the anxiety of a crowded stadium for a game of significance. "It's always crowded, especially when you play Boston. That's how it felt [Monday night]."

And he responded.

Top of the second, Colby Rasmus led off with a double, and Dioner Navarro drives a ground ball to Cano at second, who never hesitated in throwing out Rasmus at third, short-circuiting a possible rally.

"It's a big play," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "He's the best at that position."

Then, after Jose Bautista homered for a 1-0 Blue Jays lead in the fourth, Cano led off the bottom of what became a two-run inning for Seattle by working Drew Hutchison for a full-count walk. Kendrys Morales doubled Cano to third, from where he scored on a Kyle Seager sacrifice fly, and Mike Zunino singled Morales home for a 2-1 lead.

"He is a complete player," said McClendon. "He is very smart, very intelligent. He knows what is going on. He knows their bullpen has been stretched [after a 19-inning win against Detroit on Sunday], and he's going to do everything he can to try and get into it."

Then there is Cano's running catch of Danny Valencia popup, down the right-field line, for the second out in the fifth, and his beginning and ending of the seven-run sixth that put the game away. Cano led off the inning by driving a 1-0 pitch from Hutchison over the left-field fence, becoming the 38th player in Major League history to hit 10 or more home runs in each of his first 10 big league seasons.

And with two outs and the bases loaded, Cano lined a 1-2 pitch from Brad Mills off the "6" in the 376 marker on the left-center-field wall for the final two runs of the inning.

"He has such great hands and is so strong," said McClendon. "His swing is a thing of beauty. He hit those two balls right on the nose."

Cano also hit then where they were pitched -- the other way -- instead of getting overamped and grounding to the second base by trying to pull the ball.

"You see something new from him every day, and you think, 'He can do that?'" said Zunino. "Talent takes you so far, and then the mental part takes you to that different level. That's what makes him so good."

That is what the Mariners were counting on when they signed Cano last December.

And that's what they have gotten from him this season.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.