ST PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tom Wilhelmsen was in his second inning Friday – and the Seattle Mariners’ 14th – when he gave up a ground ball that became the game-winning double.
And when that hit by Ben Zobrist settled this game, 4-3, and Tampa Bay had won it, Eric Wedge talked about what might have happened.
“We were going to go with Tom as far as he could go,” the Mariners manager said. “But after Tom, it was going to be Miguel Olivo.”
That’s right. After another of those will-they-ever-score-again stretches Friday, the Mariners were out of pitching. Had Wilhelmsen wiggled out of the 14th, his plan was to continue on.
“Until we won,” Wilhelmsen said.
Wedge knew better. Catcher Olivo was in the bullpen stretching even as that double rolled into the right-field corner.
Everything about this game was close, including the winning run.
Ichiro Suzuki fielded it in the corner, cranked up that 38-year-old arm and fired home. He overshot cutoff man Dustin Ackley, but his throw beat the runner to the plate.
It was just a bit off-line, and when catcher Jesus Montero had to step back to catch it, Carlos Peña managed to slide in just ahead of his dive for a tag.
“It was one of those nights where you try to get three outs so your team can get back up to bat,” said reliever Josh Kinney, who worked 2 innings without allowing a run.
“You knew someone was going to score. Every inning, I thought it would be us,” he said.
Despite their 31 runs in four games at Kansas City, the Mariners started a lineup against the Rays that all but gave away two or three innings.
The Nos. 7-8-9 hitters for Seattle – Justin Smoak, Carlos Peguero and Brendan Ryan – came in batting .198, .167 and .190. Go ahead, find another major league team that can match that.
Those three then combined to go 1-for-16.
The one hit was Peguero’s first home run of the season, a two-run shot in the seventh that gave the Mariners a brief, 3-2 lead before the Rays tied it in the bottom of the inning. Without it, the Mariners lose in regulation.
With it, they played on and on and then on a little more.
Peguero’s seventh-inning home run not only ended Seattle’s scoring for the night, but it also was the Mariners’ last hit until John Jaso singled in the 14th inning.
During that expanse, the Mariners’ only baserunners were Jaso and Kyle Seager. Jaso walked with two outs in the eighth and was left stranded. Seager reached on one of three Tampa errors in the ninth, but was caught stealing.
“Our pitchers were great, all night,” Wedge said. “We just couldn’t get anything going, especially in extra innings.”
The Rays, meanwhile, seemed to have a threat in every inning, and Oliver Perez, Brandon League, Lucas Luetge and Kinney kept wiggling out of them.
Once the bullpen was down to two choices – Wilhelmsen and Olivo – Wedge went with his closer in the bottom of the 13th inning. Wilhelmsen needed six pitches to get three outs.
When he went back out in the 14th, he allowed two hits and lost.
All but forgotten in the marathon game was Seattle’s starting pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma.
What he did in this one was produce his best major league start, a six-inning, two-run effort in which he struck out a career-best six batters.
Iwakuma was in trouble in three of the first four innings, but either forced Tampa to strand runners or used a double play to get out of the jam.
He had a shutout and 1-0 lead going into the sixth inning, then gave up a tying solo home run to B.J. Upton and, later, a run that put the Rays ahead, 2-1.
That second run was a measure of bad luck. With a man on third and two out, Iwakuma got a ground ball to the left side of the infield from Jeff Keppinger. Third baseman Seager lunged for it, and when it kicked off his glove it bounded away from shortstop Ryan and into left field.
At that, Iwakuma faced the dilemma of all Mariners starting pitchers – a lack of offensive support that has become far too regular to go unnoticed.
What did he get during his six innings?
One run, produced when Ichiro tripled in the first inning and Casper Wells doubled him home.
The Mariners teased that inning, loading the bases with two outs, but James Shields struck out Jesus Montero with one out, then got out of trouble by striking out Smoak.
It was a theme Tampa pitching would return to again and again, striking out a total of 17 Mariners.
And, in the end, Seattle took its second bottom-of-the-ninth loss in three firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue