Timely hitting — hell, hitting in general — has been a problem for the Mariners in their recent nose dive. Monday night in Anaheim, they were given a first-hand tutorial in what a professional at-bat during a playoff stretch run looks like. The lesson came courtesy of three-time National League Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols.
In the third inning of the team’s first of a four-game series with the Angels, Hisashi Iwakuma, after retiring the first eight hitters, walked Efren Navarro. After a bloop single from Kole Calhoun and a walk to Mike Trout, Pujols came to the plate with the bases loaded in a scoreless game.
Quickly going down 0-2, Pujols saw Iwakuma throw a fastball, slider and a split-finger of varying speeds, but Pujols fouled off four. On the seventh pitch, the 34-year-old veteran lined a split just above his ankles over the head of Kyle Seager and down the third-base line for a bases-clearing double.
The hit was all the Angels needed to win the game and become MLB’s first team to clinch a playoff berth.
The 8-1 romp was Seattle’s (80-69) third straight loss, which dropped it to two games behind the Royals, who beat the White Sox in their final at-bat, in the race for the American League’s second wild card.
Iwakuma entered Monday’s start on a downward trend. In his previous four starts, Iwakuma posted a 2-1 record with a 7.50 ERA over 18 innings. In fact, he walked more batters (four) than he did in all of July (one). In the matchup with Pujols, Iwakuma was careful. Pujols was simply better. He battled, staying on every pitch and finally put one in play.
It got worse.
The inning finished with Howie Kendrick lacing a double into the right-center gap, scoring Tony Campana, who came on to pinch-run for Pujols (hamstring cramp).
In the fourth inning, three hits, including a David Freese solo home run, spelled the end for Iwakuma. Dominic Leone yielded a two-out, two-run single to Campana, extending the lead to 7-0.
In the fifth inning, Lucas Luetge was tagged for a solo home run by the .150-hitting Brennan Boesch, walked a batter and Cano committed his second error in as many games on a routine ground ball.
Iwakuma (14-8, 3.42 ERA) suffered the loss after giving up seven runs on six hits and two walks in 3.1 innings.
The lone bright spot in a sweltering night for the Mariners was the play of Logan Morrison. The first baseman delivered two hits, including a line-drive double in the eighth inning. Reserve catcher Humberto Quintero drove him home with a ground out.
Angels starter Matt Shoemaker was dominant for 7.2 innings. In winning his 16th game, Shoemaker limited the M’s to five hits and one run while striking out five. He left without finishing the eighth due to injury.
Mariners outfielders Dustin Ackley (ankle) and Michael Saunders returned to the lineup Monday . . . The Mariners play the second in an 11-game road trip Tuesday with Roenis Elias (10-1, 3.81 ERA) against Cory Rasmus (3-1 2.80).