CHICAGO – Wildly emotional losses are hardly new to the Seattle Mariners, who have been the victims of blown saves, a perfect game and all manner of leads that became defeats.
Still, nothing quite prepared them for the Chicago White Sox winning 7-4 on Friday.
Not after they had rallied in the seventh and eighth innings to tie the game. Not after overcoming a five-inning, four-run start from Felix Hernandez.
And certainly not because of a “lazy line drive” that hit their center fielder in the face and sparked the winning rally.
“It was a lazy, little line drive that darted on me at the last instant and, as everyone saw, hit me in the face,” Michael Saunders said. “I didn’t take my eye off it.
“I felt horrible. I’ll take the blame for this loss – Shawn Kelley pitched his ass off and should have been out of the eighth inning ”
Ah, that eighth inning.
Down 4-0 at one point, the Mariners got a two-run home run from Kyle Seager in the seventh inning, then an RBI single from Seager and an RBI double from Justin Smoak to tie in the eighth inning.
Kelley took the mound, and Paul Konerko hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to center field – until it hit Saunders in the face and became a two-base error.
“Saunders said the ball just took off on him at the very end,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Kelley got the next batter, walked A.J. Pierzynski and struck out Dayan Viciedo. With runners at the corners, he induced a slow chopper from Alexi Ramirez toward shortstop Brendan Ryan.
“The way this infield is, it plays like the beach, so I played back on the grass just so I could move quickly,” Ryan said. “On that ground ball, everything had to be perfect. I got to it, but couldn’t feel it in the glove and had to take an extra two steps to throw.”
Ramirez was safe, and the White Sox had a 5-4 lead.
“I wish I’d gotten him to hit it a little harder,” Kelley said.
Before Kelley could get the third out, Chicago scored two more unearned runs, and this one was out of reach.
“If I’d held them to that one run, who knows?” Kelley said. “Miguel Olivo doubled to open the ninth, so if it’s still 5-4 ”
And just as Saunders was willing to wear this one, so was Felix Hernandez, who not only didn’t pitch well but also hurt his back in the process.
“In the second inning, I slipped on the mound and felt something in my back,” he said. “I’m OK, but it wasn’t the back tonight, it was my fastball.”
While some have feared Felix’s velocity – down to 92 mph on average – has cost him, he said his problem was command, not miles per hour.
Second baseman Gordon Beckham, for instance, hit a pair of home runs against Hernandez, his sixth and seventh of the year. What happened?
“Same pitch, both times,” Felix said. “My fastball did nothing tonight, no movement, nothing. I have to take a look and see what is happening because this was like my start two starts ago.
“I have to have my fastball to have a good game. I was disappointed in myself tonight. My teammates fought like crazy to score runs and come back.
“I cannot let this happen. I’ve got to start pitching well.”
Wedge pulled his starter after five innings, not wanting what he called a “tweak” in Felix’s back to worsen. Wedge and Hernandez said they don’t expect him to miss a start.
What the Mariners missed Friday was a chance to steal a game from a team that has now won 13 of its past 14.
After 54 games, they are officially one third of the way through the season, on pace to go 69-93 – two wins better than in 2011.
If the second two-thirds of the year stay the same, which isn’t likely, the Mariners would post some surprising numbers.
Felix Hernandez would go 9-12 with a 3.42 earned-run average.
Kyle Seager would bat .283 with 18 home runs and 93 RBI.
Justin Smoak would bat .238 with 27 homers and 84 RBI.
Ichiro would bat .270 with 174 hits, 75 runs scored and 24 stolen bases.
Jason Vargas would go 18-12 with a 3.45 ERA.
Brendan Ryan would hit .174, Mike Carp .172, Chone Figgins .182, Munenori Kawasaki .158 and Miguel Olivo .200.
And Michael Saunders would get hit in the face three times by a line drive.
“Never happened to me before,” Saunders said, who looked like a hockey player with a mouse under his left eye. “I doubt I’ll forget it, since I’ve got a mark to remind me.”email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue