Mariners can't overcome early miscues
By Jim Street / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS — The second inning of Friday night’s game against the Twins epitomized the Mariners’ season-long plight.
They loaded the bases with one out in the top half of the inning but didn’t score, then fell behind by two runs in the bottom half of the inning, when a home run followed a two-out error.
The miscue opened door to a 5-3 loss before a sellout crowd of 40,596 at Target Field.
Seattle absorbed its 65th loss of the season, 21 of them coming this month, and unless the Mariners win Saturday night’s game — ace right-hander Felix Hernandez will start — they will tie the franchise record for most losses in one month. The record has been held by the 1977 expansion team, which lost 22 games in August.
On Friday night, three unearned runs, and another bases-loaded situation that produced no runs, contributed to the latest setback. The Mariners are now batting .214 (18-for-84) with the bases loaded.
“The whole momentum of the game was in the second inning, when we get a sac bunt and put ourselves in good position with one out and don’t manufacture at least one run,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “It helps the pitcher quite a bit when you do that and we didn’t get it done.”
The inning against Twins starter Scott Baker began with Russell Branyan drilling a double to right-center. Franklin Gutierrez walked, and both runners advanced on Michael Saunders’ sacrifice bunt.
A full-count walk to catcher Josh Bard, ending a terrific at-bat, loaded the bases.
The potential of scoring first in the game diminished when third baseman Josh Wilson struck out. it vanished altogether when Jack Wilson fouled out.
You could sense the anguish in the visiting dugout as the Mariners’ batting average with the bases loaded this season dipped to .214 (18-for-84).
“We’re just swinging at pitches out of the zone when we don’t need to,” Wakamatsu said.
If the top of the inning weren’t agonizing enough, the bottom sure was.
After starter Doug Fister retired the first two batters in the inning, Michael Cuddyer hit a routine grounder to second baseman Chone Figgins, who bobbled it, picked it up and — for some reason — did not throw it to first base.
He did not make himself available after the game to explain what happened.
The miscue extended the inning, and Jim Thome followed with a first-pitch home run to left field.
“The difference in the game tonight was the Thome home run,” Branyan said. “If we clean that inning up, we might walk out of here with a victory. it was a tough loss.”
It was an especially tough loss for Fister, who remained winless since may 14.
“The score didn’t reflect it,” Wakamatsu said, “but I thought Doug Fister had the best stuff and the best command he’s had since coming off the DL. I thought he was down in the zone better, and the action on his pitches was much sharper.”
Indeed, Fister pitched well enough to win.
“I felt good,” he said. “I kept the ball down, but I didn’t execute when I needed to. I should have picked up my teammate [Figgins] and I didn’t get it done.”
Fister said the pitch Thome hit to the opposite field was up.
“I didn’t execute the pitch down,” he added. “He’s a great hitter. I tip my cap to him.”
Fister’s defensive support faltered again in the third inning when, with two outs and a runner on third, Josh Wilson mishandled a ball that Joe Mauer hit.
That put the Twins ahead by three runs, and it became a five-run gap in the fifth when, with two outs, Alexi Casilla hit a two-run home run to right-center field. The drive was initially ruled in play, but the umpires watched it on replay and — correctly — changed the call to a home run.
Fister departed after getting the third out of the inning.
The Mariners cut into the five-run deficit in the sixth inning, scoring three runs off Baker. Josh Wilson drove in two of them with a double to right-center.
Previously, he struck out in the second inning with the bases loaded and one out, and popped out in the fourth inning with two on and two out.
Despite Wilson’s redeeming double, the damage done earlier in the game proved to be more than the Mariners could overcome.
“We lost those [four] ballgames in Chicago and hoped to come here and rebound,” Branyan said. “It’s a tough loss tonight but we regroup tonight and come back tomorrow and get ‘em.
“We have to take it in stride, keep our heads up and keep playing hard. we could easily give up right now the way things have gone. But we continue to battle. Guys are here at 1:30 or 2 o’clock every day, working their butts off to play a game that night.
“We’re not quitting.”
Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki went 1-for-5 and his batting average in July dipped to .246, likely guaranteeing that a streak of nine consecutive months batting at least .300 will end with Saturday night’s game.
It would be his least-productive month since he batted .259 in April 2008.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. this story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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