For the 13th time in the past 15 series in Seattle, the Yankees beat the Mariners, who were not terrible but remain in the deep pool of mediocrity in the American League.
As they always do, the Yankees brought out the ogling masses — 153,948 for the four games at Safeco Field over the weekend. As they almost always do, the Yankees won the series in Seattle — for the 13th time in the past 15 such series. New York has won 19 of the past 24 games here going back to 2011.
In that time, the Mariners have changed owners, general managers, managers and all players save one — Felix Hernandez. Hasn’t made a difference. The Yankees always treat the Mariners like a squealing kid brother at the family gathering.
As a stand-alone, each game is not an exercise in humiliation. Like Sunday, when the Yankees won 6-4 to take the series 3-1. The Mariners overcame a 3-0 deficit with a four-run fourth inning. Yovani Gallardo, the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter, gave up three runs, all solo homers, in five innings, a creditable effort.
But a sag here, a mistake there, and the Mariners expose a weakness that the Yankees exploit like the velociraptors that they are. The Yankees’ 52-29 record since Safeco’s opening in 1999 is the best by any team, made all the more annoying by the the belligerent New York fans who are like the presence of scat on a forest’s game trail.
“We figured it would come down to a battle of bullpens,” said manager Scott Servais. “Theirs was a little better than ours.”
In a game in which Caleb Smith was making his first MLB start, the Yankees got away with it because the bullpen retired 13 in a row.
The door opened a crack when DH Nelson Cruz led off the ninth inning with a carom shot off the leg of closer Aroldis Chapman.
But Chapman stayed in and was healthy enough to pick off first base pinch-runner Taylor Motter, an egregious boner that loomed larger after the next batter, 3B Kyle Seager, doubled, then reached third on a wild pitch.
Had it been a 6-5 game with no outs and Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel coming up, it would have been worth looking up the fact that the Yankees lead the majors with 18 blown saves (one ahead of the Mariners).
But it was a 6-4 game with one avoidable out, and Haniger popped out and Gamel struck out to end it. Afterward, Motter was silent, likely knowing he played his way off the roster.
“Mental mistake,” said Servais. “Physical mistakes happen . . . you got to be mentally sharp.”
During the game, reports surfaced that the Mariners signed INF Danny Espinosa, 30, released last week by the Angels after he hit .162 in 72 games in Anaheim following seven seasons with the Nationals. The club made no official announcement, but Motter is hitting .204 and hadn’t played in a week until Sunday’s gaffe.
A swap-out of reserve infielders isn’t likely to change the Mariners’ course. In fact, in game 100, all of the Mariners’ moves so far this season have done nothing to move the needle.
A year ago, they were 51-49. Now they are 49-51. The Yankees, meanwhile, are 51-46 and beginning to develop the traditional look of a postseason team, a category in which they lead the Mariners 52-4.
Mariners fans are well aware of the primary cause of the current mediocrity — four members of the rotation down early in the season with injuries. The travail has yet to be overcome.
At midseason a year ago, the rotation included Hernandez, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma and on July 31 added Ariel Miranda from Baltimore in a trade for Wade Miley. They also had Mike Montgomery working out of the pen and spot-starting.
At the moment, most Mariners fans would sacrifice a family member or two to get that band back together.
Instead, they are patching through with five-inning guys like Gallardo and rookies Andrew Moore and Sam Gaviglio. They did add during the week veteran reliever David Phelps from the Marlins for four prospects, and he he did well his debut, holding four Yankees hitless Saturday.
But as long as the starters can’t go deeper in games, the Mariners will continue to wear down the bullpen. Sunday it was the turn of James Pazos to buckle, giving up three runs in a third of an inning.
Seattle’s bullpen is far from terrible, but will be over-used, as when Servais chose to use closer Edwin Diaz and set-up man Nick Vincent for four consecutive outings to start the second half. It helped produce two wins in three games with Houston, but faltered several times against the Yankees.
As discussed here earlier, the Yankees had the resources and wit to bolster the pen by bringing in hard throwers David Robinson and Tommy Kahnle from the withering White Sox. It made them better through the weekend, and likely for the season.
The Mariners on Saturday put one over on their masters by getting key contributions from ex-Yankees Phelps, Gamel and Robinson Cano in a 6-5 win. But it was a tooth-pull that took 10 innings and six relievers.
The fact is, against the Yankees, the Mariners need more Yankees.