A day after perhaps their most stirring win of the season, given place and opponent, the Mariners Sunday night had their most agonizing loss. After getting two-run homers from RF Nelson Cruz, 2B Robinson Cano and 1B Dae-Ho Lee and a wildly effective start from Felix Hernandez, the Mariners gave back the 6-0 lead and lost 7-6 in 12 innings (box) to the Cubs at Wrigley Field when PH Jon Lester safety-squeezed home Justin Heyward with a two-strike bunt.
Closer Steve Cishek couldn’t protect a 6-3 lead in the ninth, giving up the tying run with a wild pitch nearly four feet off the plate. The Mariners blew multiple chances to take a 2-1 series win from the team with MLB’s best record. After getting two of three in Toronto and splitting a pair in Pittsburgh, the Mariners finished the trip 4-4 but had a miserable flight home.
Cody Martin, just called up from AAA, pitched scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th before giving up a double to Heyward to open the 12th. He moved to third on a fly-out. Cubs manager Joe Maddon, out of position players, sent former Bellarmine (Tacoma) Prep pitcher Jon Lester, batting .051, to pinch-hit. On a 2-2 pitch, he laid down a bunt that only Martin could field. His glove-flip to C Mike Zunino went to the first base side and Heyward scored easily.
Up 6-3 with one out, Cishek gave up a double to Anthony Rizzo and a single to Ben Zobrist. Rizzo scored on a single by Addison Russell, who took second when rookie LF Guillermo Heredia, in his first MLB game and in his first inning, mistakenly threw to third instead of second.
Cishek loaded the bases when he hit Heyward with a pitch. Wilson Contreras hit a grounder to 3B Kyle Seager, who got a force-out at second, but a run scored when Contreras beat the relay throw to first, preventing the game-ending double play. With Matt Szczur at the plate, Cishek flung a pitch way wide left to allow Russell home to tie the game.
The Cubs used eight pitchers to six for the Mariners, who thought they had a laugher going when they had a two-run homer in each of the first three innings against Cubs starter Brian Matusz, making his first start since 2012. But they were shut out in the final nine innings by the Cubs bullpen, which allowed five hits.
Hernandez still lacks command of his fastball, walking five and hitting two. But he also gave up only two hits in struck out eight. It took him 103 pitches (64 strikes) to get through five innings. Newcomer Drew Storen had a 1-2-3 sixth and Tom Wilhelmsen gave up run in the seventh. Edwin Diaz got the final out in the seventh and pitched a scoreless eighth before the Cishek disaster.
The three homers looked massive early, but as the Cubs crawled back, the Mariners were incapable of manufacturing runs. Only Cruz and Zunino managed more than one hit.
In the sixth, Cubs reliever Travis Wood walked Seth Smith, pinch-hitting for Hernandez, to load the bases with no outs. SS Shawn O’Malley and CF Leonys Martin stuck out and Cano popped to shallow right.
“Because Lester could do that. Jake Arrieta would have hit if the runner was on second or first. No more complicated than that. With me, the pitchers know they might play.” — Maddon, explaining why he chose the weak-hitting Lester to pinch-hit instead of Arrieta, one of MLB’s best hitting pitchers
Seager’s fielding misplay in the third was his 14th error of the season . . . The Cubs used five left fielders in the game, including relief pitcher Wood, who pitched twice and made a running catch against the wall . . . In the Mariners’ first ESPN Sunday night game in 12 years, Hernandez walked the first two batters, then struck out Rizzo, Zobrist and Russell. The two runs charged to Hernandez came in on a bases-loaded walk, followed by a bases-loaded hit batter.
The Mariners return home Monday for four against Boston, which is 4½ games ahead of Seattle for the second wild-card spot. LHP James Paxton, 3-5, 4.27 ERA) goes for Seattle.