It was supposed to be a trade that would put the Mariners over the top and into postseason in 2008.
Instead, it brought a sullen, injury-prone, misunderstood pitcher to Seattle for four forgettable seasons and cost the organization an All-Star center fielder who is better than any player on the Mariners’ current 25-man roster.
But it wasn’t just Adam Jones’ mammoth second-inning home run the Orioles’ 4-0 win Wednesday over the Mariners that picked at the scab of a lamentable trade that sent him and four other players east for Erik Bedard.
No, it was one of those forgotten four players in that infamous Bill Bavasi trade who came back to haunt his former organization, spoiling the Fourth of July celebration at Safeco Field.
Chris Tillman, a one-time prized pitching prospect in both the Mariners and Orioles organizations, gave a glimpse of what made him the second-most-coveted player in that five-players-for-one swap.
For eight innings in his first big-league start of the season, Tillman allowed just one hit – a groundball single to Michael Saunders. But in the ninth inning as he tried for a shutout, the Mariners finally were able to score thanks to second baseman Robert Andino and closer Jim Johnson.
Andino booted an easy ground ball from Michael Saunders to start the inning. Tillman battled back to strike out Casper Wells, then gave up a double to John Jaso to put runners on second and third with one out. Orioles manager Buck Showalter went to Johnson to shut the door.
Johnson gave up a run, getting Kyle Seager to ground out, and then another on a Justin Smoak single. But with the score at 4-2 and the tying run at the plate in Miguel Olivo, Johnson was able to coax a high fly ball to end the inning.
Officially, Tillman got the win, going 8 1/3 innings and giving up no earned runs on tow hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.
“He was a big-leaguer out there today,” said Saunders of his one-time teammate at Class A High Desert. “He’s always had a good arm. But he’s had a little bit of control problems. But he was on today.”
In the ninth inning with 120-plus pitches under his belt, Tillman threw a pair of fastballs at 97 miles per hour. According to Pitch F/X numbers, Tillman threw his fastball at an average of 94.99 miles per hour.
“I played with him a couple years back in the minor leagues before we traded him to Baltimore, I faced him last year, but I’ve never seen him sit at 93 to 95 miles per hour,” Saunders said. “He was mixing his pitches, throwing a pretty good curve ball. But that was the biggest difference for me was that extra velocity.”
Tillman was perfect against the first 10 batters before allowing a Saunders single up the middle. From there, only three runners – the results of two walks and an error – reached base over the next 17 hitters.
While some of Seattle’s struggles can be blamed on the increased velocity and Tillman’s quality of pitches, it’s not as if the Mariners are the 1927 Yankees in terms of offensive prowess. They aren’t even the 2007 Mariners.
Many a pitcher this season has come into Safeco Field and shut Seattle down.
“There wasn’t any hard contact,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We just didn’t put ourselves in the position to hit the ball hard. He had a good fastball, and you had to get on it, but we just kept missing or mis-hitting the baseball.”
Jones and the Orioles had no such trouble against Mariners starter Hector Noesi. The right-hander fell to an American League-worst 2-11. He has lost his past eight decisions – the longest streak in the big leagues this year.
It was a typical Noesi start with moments of possibility and moments that made Wedge want pull his hair out. He pitched five innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with four strikeouts, a wild pitch and a balk.
“He made some mistakes,” Wedge said. “They pushed a run across here and a run across there and we felt that was enough for him today. We just need him to take the next step, to the point where we know what we are getting from him.”
The right-hander served up the massive homer to Jones, who drove the 2-0 fastball into the upper deck in left field.
“It was a fastball down the middle and he was waiting for it,” Noesi said.
Noesi gave up two more runs in the third inning as a pair of singles to start the inning scored on a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly. A lead-off double and a wild pitch allowed Andino to drive in the Orioles’ fourth run of the game in the fifth inning.
“I was not good today,” Noesi said. “I was missing my spots.”
To be fair, Noesi wasn’t good for enough for a Mariners team that simply can’t score at Safeco.
They went 4-6 on the 10-game homestand, dropping to 35-49 this season. Seattle scored just 2.1 runs per game and batted a meek .175 over the homestand. It dropped the team’s numbers on the season to a .198 batting average with a .276 on-base percentage and a .293 slugging percentage. Perhaps the three-game series in Oakland that starts Friday and carries into the All-Star break will help them.
“I don’t know about that,” Wedge said. “I would rather stay here and grind this and figure it out. That’s my attitude and that should be their attitude, too. You can’t run away from it. You have to look it right in the eye. This is where we play. And it’s a great to place to play.”