CHICAGO – It wasn’t that the Seattle offense died Sunday – left-hander Chris Sale killed it.
The White Sox pitcher, who struck out 15 batters in his last start, won for the seventh time this season by holding the Mariners to three hits in the first eight innings, then working around two more in the ninth.
The 4-2 loss seemed close for the Mariners, who grabbed a 2-0 lead on Miguel Olivo’s long home run in the second inning, but Kevin Millwood couldn’t hold it.
“I threw way too many pitches and not nearly enough quality pitches,” Millwood said. “A lot of those pitches were close, but weren’t strikes. We knew coming in there wasn’t much margin for error.”
The White Sox crept back with a run in the second inning, another in the third – and each runner who scored was walked by Millwood.
“For the most part, I kept them on the ground, but they found holes and I walked too many guys,” Millwood said.
Back-to-back singles to open the fourth inning put the Mariners in a jam, and Gordon Beckham singled to put Chicago ahead, 3-2. Then Millwood simply got unlucky.
Alex Rios grounded sharply up the middle – where shortstop Brendan Ryan was shading him – and Millwood instinctively put out a foot to try to stop the ball.
“It hit my foot and unfortunately I deflected it too far,” Millwood said.
Ryan had to change direction with the ball, backhand and try to throw to first, but Rios beat the throw and the lead was 4-2.
Sale knew what to do with it.
From Olivo’s home run, he retired 13 of the next 16 batters he faced, which got him to the ninth without much of a problem.
“That arm angle makes it tough to pick the ball up, and when you do it’s right on top of you,” said Dustin Ackley, who struck out twice. “He had a good slider, a good fastball …”
“He pitched a real good game against us and Olivo gave us a lead against him,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Millwood was just missing. He didn’t have his great command.
After four innings, Millwood had thrown 95 pitches and was done. The Seattle bullpen was short – Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen and Hisashi Iwakuma weren’t available.
What to do against a Chicago team that had won nine of it’s previous 10 games?
Rookie Stephen Pryor, called up Saturday, appeared in his second consecutive game – going back-to-back for the first time this season. He allowed one hit, struck out two and threw at 97 mph.
Rookie Lucas Luetge, the left-handed specialist who had been used 19 times before, and rarely faced more than one or two hitters, was asked to go two innings.
“It’s a little different after five or six games in a row facing one guy,” Luetge said. “When you’re coming in to face one guy, you don’t hold anything back, you go all out. I had to calm down and save some energy.”
Two outs into his second inning, Luetge walked a batter, gave up a single and walked in a small circle behind the mound.
“I was tired, and I had to talk to myself a little, tell myself to trust my pitch and throw it in the strike zone,” Luetge said.
He did, and with his 37th pitch got his sixth out.
“(Pitching coach) Carl Willis came up to me and said, ‘That’s like your first start,’ ” Luetge said, laughing. “I enjoyed it.”
For those not keeping track, it was Luetge’s 20th appearance – all this year with Seattle – and he has still not allowed an earned run in 13 innings.
Shawn Kelley finished with a clean eighth inning, and it came down to one last charge against Sale in the ninth.
Jesus Montero led off with a single, but Justin Smoak grounded into a double play. Then Ackley singled with two out to get the game to Olivo.
“I homered on a change-up when he doubled up and threw two of them,” Olivo said. “He’s nasty. In that last at-bat, he threw me everything – fastballs, change, his breaking ball. I fouled off three or four good pitches.”
And eventually struck out on Sale’s 119th pitch.
The Mariners lost two of the three games in the series and are 3-3 on the trip heading into Anaheim for a shot at the Angels. And they go in with growing confidence in their offense.
Against a left-hander headed for the All-Star Game next month, the Mariners were one swing away from tying it in four of the last five email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLarue