It was supposed to be a trade that would put the Mariners over the top and into postseason in 2008.
Instead, it was the trade that brought a sullen, injury-prone, misunderstood pitcher to Seattle for four forgettable seasons and cost the organization an All-Star center fielder – who is probably better than any player on the Mariners’ current 25-man roster.
But it wasn’t just Adam Jones’ mammoth second-inning home run in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles that picked at the scab of the infamous Bill Bavasi trade that sent Jones and four other players east for pitcher Erik Bedard.
It was one of those forgotten four players 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 for the Mariners and Orioles, gave a glimpse of what made him the second most coveted player in that trade.
For eight innings in his first big league start this season, Tillman was nearly unhittable, allowing just one hit – a ground-ball single to Michael Saunders. In the ninth inning, as he tried for a the shutout, the Mariners finally scored some runs off Tillman – with assists from second baseman Robert Andino and closer Jim Johnson.
Andino booted an easy grounder from Saunders to start the inning. Tillman battled back to strike out Casper Wells, but then gave up a double to John Jaso to put runners on second and third with one out.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in Johnson to shut the door. But Johnson gave up a run when Kyle Seager grounded out, and another when Justin Smoak singled.
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 game.
Tillman got the win after going 8 innings and giving up no earned runs on two hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.
“He was a big leaguer out there today,” Saunders said of his one-time teammate at Single-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 mph. According to Pitch F/X numbers, Tillman threw his fastball at an average of 94.99 mph.
“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 curveball. But what was the biggest difference for me was that extra velocity.”
Tillman was perfect against the first 10 batters before allowing Saunders’ single up the middle. From there, only three runners – two walks and an error – reached base over the next 17 hitters.
While some of Seattle’s struggles can be blamed on Tillman’s increased velocity and quality of pitches, he simply added his name to the list of pitchers who have shut the Mariners down at Safeco Field.
“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 eight decisions in a row – the longest streak in the majors this season.
It was a typical Noesi start: moments when he was in control and moments when 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 a 2-0 fastball into the left-field upper deck.
“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 after a pair of singles to start the inning scored on a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly. A leadoff double and a wild pitch in the fifth innig allowed Robert Andino to drive in the Orioles’ fourth run.
“I was not good today,” Noesi said.
The Mariners, who can’t seem to score at Safeco, went 4-6 on the 10-game homestand.
They scored 2.1 runs a game, batted .175 and dropped to 35-49.
Perhaps, the three-game series in Oakland, which starts Friday and carries the Mariners into the All-Star break, will help.
“I don’t know about that,” Wedge said. “I would rather stay here and grind this and figure it out. You can’t run away from it. You have to look it right in the eye. This is where we play.”firstname.lastname@example.org