ST. LOUIS — It seems impossible to fathom, but the Seattle Mariners found a different way to lose in walk-off fashion. That says something considering they came into Busch Stadium having lost 11 times this season that way. There have been towering homers, bloop singles, ground balls, sacrifice flies and even a wild pitch.
That changed, perhaps fittingly, on Friday the 13th.
When Mike Zunino couldn’t quite glove an inside pitch to Matt Holliday from Oliver Perez and the ball squirted just far enough away from him for Pete Kozma to race home and score for a 2-1 St. Louis win in the 10th inning, it made it a dozen times that the Mariners watched a team spill onto the field and celebrate a victory like sugar-amped children.
But none of those came on a passed ball, until Friday.
“It was to my glove side and I just sort of lost track of it when
it was heading toward my glove, and I caught it right off my thumb,” Zunino said. “I need to be anticipating that. It just trickled away too far.”
To lose in that manner was a punch to the gut for Zunino, who puts defense ahead of offense in terms of importance. It completely overshadowed the fact that he accounted for the Mariners only run in the game, blasting a solo homer off Cardinals starter Adam Wainright in the fifth inning.
“It’s frustrating,” Zunino said. “I take a lot of pride in my defense. That’s a play where you get looked at. For me, a good game as a catcher is where people don’t notice anything.”
But Mariners manager Eric Wedge wouldn’t let Zunino shoulder the entire blame for the team’s 13th extra inning loss.
“We should have never been in that situation,” Wedge said. “That pop-up should have been caught. And we shouldn’t have been in the double play situation, but if you are, then you have to come across the bag and make a decent throw.”
The two mistakes Wedge was referring to came in the eighth inning with the Mariners leading 1-0.
With one out, reliever Charlie Furbush got Brock Peterson to hit a high pop fly into short right field. Second baseman Nick Franklin called for it and was camped underneath the ball. But his feet began to shuffle quickly and he made an awkward reach out to the side for the ball, but it dropped to the grass.
Peterson never stopped running and was standing on second base.
“It got up in the air and the ball started traveling on me, and once it started traveling on me I had to go get it,” Franklin said. “And I fell short of it.”
Furbush then walked Matt Carpenter while Kozma stole third during the at-bat. Still, it looked as though the Mariners would get out of the inning with the lead. John Jay then hit the ball straight to Franklin, who gloved it and made a good lead throw to second to try to get the double play. But Brad Miller’s throw to first was in the dirt and to the right of the bag, and Kendrys Morales couldn’t scoop it up cleanly allowing Kozma to tie the game at 1.
The Cardinals’ two runs were direct results of Seattle’s three prized rookies. Miller and Franklin have combined for 19 errors since being called up. Wedge knows all three are going to make mistakes because of their inexperience, but it doesn’t mean they are acceptable.
“It’s our youth,” Wedge said. “You saw it again tonight. There were multiple plays that have to be made. We’ve got a lot of young players, and they are very inexperienced. When you are playing tight ballgames, like a lot of our ballgames have been, and you are tight late, that’s when it really shows itself to you.”
It was a tough night all around for Franklin. Besides the dropped pop fly, he was also thrown out between third and home with two outs in the fifth.
Franklin was on second with two outs, and Abraham Almonte hit a ball up the middle. Carpenter made a brilliant diving stop, got up and saw Franklin was in no man’s land after third base coach Daren Brown tried to hold him up.
“He was sending me to go and then put on the brakes. But as soon as I put on the brakes, I slipped and had a tough time getting back to third base,” Franklin said.
Carpenter fired to third, and two throws later Franklin was out in the rundown.
In the ninth, Zunino led off with a single and Franklin was tasked with bunting him to second. Instead he popped out.
But the rookies weren’t the only issue in the loss. Seattle had 10 hits and still only had Zunino’s one run.
“I’m just trying to have some good at-bats,” Zunino said. “That’s all you can really do this time of year is set some building blocks.”
The late-inning miscues meant Hisashi Iwakuma’s stellar outing would go to waste. He threw seven shutout innings against a potent Cardinals lineup, giving up just three hits, while walking two and striking out one.
“They have a solid team,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “If you look at their lineup, they keep the ball in play, they don’t chase at pitches. They were tough outs.”
“Kuma was really good,” Wedge said. “He was strong and felt good, but I was very impressed with the way he threw the ball.”
With the outing, Iwakuma went over the 200-inning mark this season — an accomplishment for any starting pitcher.
“I’m very happy to achieve this,” Iwakuma said. “This was one of my goals, to stay healthy and stay in the rotation.”