Coming off a rare rough start, Hisashi Iwakuma had every intention of returning to form with an efficient victory to send the Mariners to a season-high six-game winning streak Wednesday.
It was not to be.
For the second consecutive outing, Iwakuma (5-4, 3.48 ERA) was less than sharp and Seattle could not make up the difference in a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox in front of 27,333 at Safeco Field.
A leadoff homer by Brad Miller in the eighth inning brought the M’s to within a run, but in the ninth, with the tying run on second and winning run, Dustin Ackley grounded out to first base to end the game.
“It wasn’t Kuma’s night. It was a tough night,” McClendon said. “As a warrior you don’t win all the battles, but you win the war . . . He’s my guy, I believe in him and he’ll be back out there.”
Since developing a stiff neck prior to his start against Texas June 15, Iwakuma made two starts and allowed five runs in five innings or less in each. Wednesday was his first outing of fewer than five innings since he was pulled after 3.2 innings against Oakland Sept. 8, 2012.
Because of the neck stiffness, Iwakuma has been unable to throw a bullpen in preparation for his last two starts. Yet the 33-year-old does not believe the recent change in his routine has affected his performances.
“Not really,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I do feel it, but it’s not affecting my pitching at all. I’m able to go through my routines . . . I’m responsible for the last two starts so I need to reflect on what I’ve done and prepare for my next start.”
The Red Sox snapped the Mariners’ five-game winning streak and salvaged just their second win of a seven-game trip (previously lost three of four in Oakland) by getting a big game from their biggest bat.
David Ortiz was having a quiet series through two games with two hits, one run and one RBI in seven at-bats. “Big Papi” keyed the Red Sox offense against Iwakuma.
Ortiz hit a two-out, two-run homer in the first inning to stake Boston to a 2-0 lead before following with a line-drive RBI single over the head of right-fielder Stefen Romero in the third. The hit scored Brock Holt and put the Red Sox in front 4-3. Ortiz batted 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI Wednesday.
On the other end, Clay Buchholz (3-4, 6.75 ERA) returned from the 15-day disabled list looking somewhat sharper. Despite giving up three home runs, Buchholz pitched 7.1 innings in which he allowed four runs on seven hits and no walks. He started the season with a 2-4 record and 7.02 ERA over 10 starts through May 26 when he was shelved with a hyper-extended knee.
Two of the three Mariners’ home runs came in the second inning when Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino each connected for the second consecutive night. Seager led off with a solo homer to right-center, his 12th, to put Seattle on the board. After Logan Morrison singled, Zunino homered for the fourth time in his last five games when he sent a shot off the hand-operated scoreboard in left field.
The following inning, Ortiz and Daniel Nava, who batted 3-for-4, came through with RBI singles to put the Red Sox ahead to stay.
Boston in the fifth loaded the bases against Iwakuma with no outs. Seattle reliever Tom Wilhelmsen came on and got Ortiz to ground into a 6-3 double play that scored Brock Holt from third. Wilhelmsen pitched three scoreless innings of relief on two hits and three strikeouts. His manager made sure his effort did not go without mention.
“Before we talk about Iwakuma, because I know everybody wants to talk about Iwakuma, I would be remiss not talking about the job that Tom Wilhelmsen did tonight,” McClendon said. “He was absolutely tremendous. He saved our bullpen and gave us an opportunity to win a ballgame.”
McClendon was also happy with the performance of Brandon Maurer, a former starter recalled prior to Wednesday’s game to fill the 25-man roster spot vacated by starter Erasmo Ramirez, who was demoted to Triple-A after his start Tuesday.
Maurer pitched a sterling two innings of relief. He allowed one hit and struck out four while touching 99 mph on the radar gun.
“He threw the ball well tonight,” McClendon said. “I think it’s a good role for him as we speak right now. There’s a lot less for him to think about, a lot less preparation. He can just go out and get it done.”
DH Jesus Montero was seen packing his gear after the game, presumably for a return to Tacoma. OF Michael Saunders is expected to return to Seattlre Thursday . . .The three innings of relief tossed by Wilhelmsen equaled a career high for the fifth time He last did so against New York June 11 . . . The Seattle bullpen tossed five more scoreless innings Wednesday and now has a 1.63 ERA since May 14.