So far, the Mariners haven’t risen to the occasion.
Fighting for its first postseason berth in 13 years, Seattle failed to take advantage of a struggling Athletics squad, which limped into Safeco Field having lost four of five and 13 of 18 games. Sunday, a first-inning Sam Fuld solo home run was enough to carry the A’s to a 4-o win, and more importantly, a 2-1 series win.
Seattle (80-68) lost for the fifth time in seven games and finished its homestand 2-4. Entering the weekend, it had a chance to leap-frog Oakland for second place in the division, and take command of the first American League wild card. Instead, it remained a game behind the Kansas City Royals, who also lost, for the second berth.
In each loss, the Mariners have failed to reach four runs, which this season has been a minimum standard for big success. Seattle is 62-11 when scoring four or more runs, 18-57 in all other instances.
“We haven’t been good at home, this was not a good homestand, what the hell are we going to do?” manager Lloyd McClendon asked rhetorically. “We’re going to go on the road and try to win.”
Sure wasn’t for a lack of opportunities.
Seattle put men on base in every inning, save for the sixth, against Oakland starter Jon Lester. In the seventh, it had runners on second and third with no outs, trailing 2-0. The Mariners were turned aside by reliever Dan Otera. Otera retired three of the next four hitters (exception was an intentional walk to Robinson Cano) to escape the jam without surrendering a run. The M’s were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
“We had a lot of opportunities, that’s the good part about it. The bad part is we didn’t drive anybody in,” McClendon said. “From the first inning on, we had opportunities, and obviously the seventh inning was a big opportunity, and we just couldn’t cash it in.”
After falling behind early in each of the first two games of the series, the A’s got on the board early. Fuld’s home run came off Chris Young with one out in the first inning. Young, facing the A’s for the first time since giving up five runs without completing a full inning, called it a mistake pitch.
“They just weren’t executed pitches,” Young said, also referring to a later home run. “(I) was trying to work ahead, (and) just didn’t finish the pitch and they hit them out. It happens. It’s the big leagues.”
The other mistake was a 2-0 meatball to Brandon Moss in the top of the seventh inning. Moss covered it for his 24th home run and a 2-0 lead. After a sharp single by Jed Lowrie followed, Young’s afternoon was complete. The veteran right-hander yielded two runs on four hits and two walks in six-plus innings. Young (12-8, 3.33 ERA) suffered his first loss at home since July 13 when he was also defeated by Oakland in the final game of the first half.
“I thought the ball came out of his hand very well, his velocity was back up,” McClendon said. “He kept us in the ball game, gave us an opportunity to win, we just couldn’t come through.”
McClendon trotted out a right-hand-dominant lineup against Lester (15-10, 2.45 ERA), a pitcher the Mariners edged 11 days prior on back-to-back solo homers in the seventh inning. It made little difference. Corey Hart, Chris Denorfia, Justin Smoak and Chris Taylor combined to hit 1-for-11 with two walks and left a combined seven men on base.
None of it mattered.
“This guy’s got a track record, he’s a big-time pitcher,” McClendon said. “He pitched extremely well today. I thought we had good at-bats against him, strung him out, got the pitch count up and got him out of there . . . We had opportunities, we just couldn’t cash them in.”
Oakland tacked on two runs in the eighth inning against Taijuan Walker, just one of which was earned after a pair of errors kept the inning going. Walker pitched two innings in his third career relief appearance.
The Mariners take to the road for four games against the AL West-leading Angels, three at Houston and four at Toronto. It’s an 11-game, 11-day trip that will likely decide the team’s fate after a 2-4 homestand offered little in the way of breathing room.
“You’ve got to be good regardless,” Young said. “We can’t change what’s happened. We’re still right there . . . If we play good baseball, if we find a way to win, I think we can still pull this off. We’ve played well on the road, we’re going to face good teams and it will be a good challenge for us.”
Seattle was shut out for the 17th time. The club record is 19 . . . Mariners OF Dustin Ackley (ankle) missed his sixth game of the team’s last seven . . . Cano was intentionally walked for the 18th time this season, 10th most in club history.