The Seattle Mariners survived another Albert Pujols home run, got seven gritty innings from Blake Beavan and managed to get a one-run lead to the ninth inning Friday.
And then, with a Safeco Field crowd of 23,517 cheering, the Los Angeles Angels ran into closer Brandon League.
Three runs later, League was booed as he walked off the field – and the Mariners were a beaten team, 6-4 losers to an Angels team suddenly pulling away in third place of the American League West.
“You don’t make a move without having someone ready to take the job,” manager Eric Wedge said of his embattled closer. “League is our closer. We evaluate every day.
“That’s not a decision I’m going to make five minutes after a tough loss.”
Shut out a night earlier to fall a half-game into last place behind Los Angeles, the Mariners were poised to re-seize their lead on the Angels.
They’d taken a 4-0 lead on four RBI from first baseman Justin Smoak, then watched it whittle away to 4-3, but still needed only three outs to win their 22nd game.
League got those outs, but not without mortal damage to the cause – forcing the tying run home with no one out on a wild throw to third base.
“I felt pretty good, then (Mark) Trumbo jumped on the first fastball I threw and singled,” League said. “I was trying to get a ground ball and walked the next guy.”
Then came the critical play of the night – an Erick Aybar bunt back toward the mound. League fielded it. Catcher Jesus Montero pointed to third base, where Alex Liddi was waiting.
League threw wildly.
“It was a bad throw,” Wedge said, “but Alex has to catch it, even if he comes off the bag. We make that play, it’s a totally different inning.”
“It was going to be a close play, but I thought I had him,” League said. “It went into left field and then all hell broke loose.
“They came up looking for first pitch fastballs and I didn’t adjust.”
Instead of that 22nd win, this became Seattle’s 27th loss, and the AL West inched further away.
For his part, Beavan pitched well enough to win, certainly kept his team in the game. And yet one pitch ruined it for him.
Ahead 4-0 in the sixth inning, Beavan allowed a single, then a one-out walk to bring up Pujols. Beavan was ahead in the count, 0-2, but the rejuvenated Angels first baseman jumped on a fastball.
“I’ve got to make a smarter pitch there,” Beavan said. “The two times before, I got him out with a slider. He was probably hoping for a fastball and I did him a favor.
“It wasn’t a strike, but it was too close. It should have been in the dirt, way outside. Yeah, I kept us in the game, but if I make a better pitch there, we win the game.”
A night after striking out 14 times without walking, the Mariners patiently accepted seven walks from Angels starter Ervin Santana, which helped magnify their five hits.
Smoak had two of those hits, including his sixth home run with Kyle Seager aboard in the fifth inning.
“I’ve been feeling better at the plate and tonight I came up with men on base,” said Smoak, now hitting .216. “I tried to work the count, get a pitch to hit and square it up.”
Smoak’s ground ball in the first inning got one run home, he singled home another then hit the two-run homer.
“That’s what we need from Justin,” Wedge said.
What the Mariners need, they got Friday night – barely – until the ninth inning.
They capitalized on a wild pitcher and pushed ahead, 4-0. They got a solid seven-inning start that turned a 4-3 lead over to the bullpen. They got a 1-2-3 eighth inning from Tom Wilhelmsen.
The ninth was a disaster, and not for the first time.
League has appeared in 20 games this season, been handed 13 save opportunities. Of those, he’s saved nine – and lost four.
“Unacceptable,” he said.
It ruined a game in which the Mariners new-for-a-night infield turned two slick double plays, both going Munenori Kawasaki-to-Seager-to-Smoak.
It ruined a game in which the Mariners tried to adjust to the Angels’ pitching, which obviously had been based on solid scouting. Soft stuff away, breaking stuff away, fastballs down and away.
Yes, they could have done more damage. Twice in the first inning Santana walked a man to load the bases, walking three overall. Seattle scored one time.
The question now, however, is simple. What will Wedge and his team do the next time they have a one-run lead in the ninth firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLarue