McClendon says stretch run begins now

McClendonBOSTON – With 36 games remaining in their season as the Mariners open a three-game set against the Red Sox on Friday, manager Lloyd McClendon said his club is officially entering the stretch run.

“I would say yes. This is it. It really is,” McClendon said. “We have to up our game in a lot of different ways, both mentally and physically, because they all get tough from here on out.”

The Mariners entered Friday’s play a half game behind the Tigers in the race for the American League’s final Wild Card spot as they pursue the club’s first postseason berth since 2001. First up comes a Boston team that has beaten Seattle nine straight times at Fenway dating back to 2012.

The Red Sox come in with a 56-71 record, but McClendon isn’t taking them lightly and has lined up his top three pitchers — Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma — for the weekend set.

“The record is not indicative, but the Boston Red Sox are a very dangerous club and we need to play good,” McClendon said. “We need to get out of the gates and play good this first game and see what happens after that.”

If the Mariners do make the playoffs, they’ll have earned it, given 21 of their remaining 36 games are on the road and they still have seven games against the AL West-leading Angels and six against the runner-up A’s, as well as four against contending Toronto and three against a Nationals team that leads the NL East and is currently on a 10-game winning streak.

The Mariners close out with 18 of 27 games on the road in the final month, which would be even-more imposing if not for the fact Seattle has one of the top road records in the Majors at 34-26. That is something McClendon figures is in his team’s favor as it deals with a difficult closing stretch.

“No question about it, because if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to have to do it on the road,” he said. “We’ve got nine home games in September. I don’t know who made that schedule, but that’s pretty tough. But it is what it is and we’ll deal with it. We’ve done it all year with the travel and the scheduling. We don’t talk about it. We don’t make excuses about it. We just go out and do it. It’ll be no different in September.”

Robinson Cano, one of the few Mariners who has been through the heat of a pennant drive, agreed that things start to change about now.

“This is the time you don’t want to take a day off because everything means a lot,” said Cano. “You must win right now and you have to be ready every single day. This is why in the offseason I work really hard, because this is the time the team really needs you. This kind of situation, whatever you have done in the past doesn’t count. It’s gone good so far and hopefully we continue playing the same way we’ve been playing.”

Cano believes his new team is ready for the challenge.

“Of course,” he said. “Whatever is in my hands I can do to tell them or show them or talk to them, I’ll do it. A lot of people doubted that we’d be there this far into the season, but we’ve got a bunch of guys that have worked really hard and go out there and play hard. We’ve got a good chemistry.”

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