When streaks and trends are hot — whether good or bad —they tend to stay hot. Trying to stop the bad ones are easier said than done.
The three longballs the Washington Nationals hit through the first four innings Sunday continued a trend Seattle pitching hasn’t stopped in the past four games (12 home runs) and got the groans and moans from the 26,221 in attendance started early on a day that looked like it might further hurt the Seattle Mariners chances in the wild-card chase and extend their mini-losing skid.
But the game’s fourth home run — Dustin Ackley’s 11th of the season — salvaged the series finale against the Nationals and led to a 5-3 Mariners win that manager Lloyd McClendon said was “a good win” as they start September.
Looking ahead, Seattle plays 18 of its final 27 games away from Safeco Field, including a seven-game road trip against American League West rivals. The Mariners begin a three-game series in Oakland on Monday to face the suddenly reeling Athletics.
McClendon, who arrived shortly before Sunday’s 1:10 p.m. first pitch after missing the past two games while in Indiana for his daughter’s wedding — “I was dancing with my daughter in one hand, and looking at the score (of the games) in the other,” he said — noted that the series, while the team dropped two out of three, is a good tune-up and test for what’s on the horizon against playoff-caliber teams.
It might just be one win to end a homestand 2-4 instead of 1-5, but the momentum shift is what the team was looking for. The Mariners’ win, coupled with the Tigers’ 6-2 loss to the White Sox, pulls Seattle within a half-game of Detroit for the second wild-card spot.
“That’s a playoff team (the Nationals) — that’s the type of team we want to see at the end,” said Brad Miller, who went 3-for-3 in a spot-start at shortstop. “To be able to get a win before we hit the road is huge.”
But it didn’t come easy.
While Hisashi Iwakuma earned his 13th win, striking out six in six innings and leaving with a 4-3 lead, he did give up three solo home runs. Home runs allowed by Seattle pitching was an all-too-common theme throughout the homestand; just in the past four games, it allowed 12, including 10 to the Nationals.
Bryce Harper burned the Mariners for solo home runs in the second (right field) and fourth (center) innings, plus Nate Schierholtz’s third-inning shot to center led to a 3-1 advantage for Washington (77-58) after four innings.
The 10 home runs the Nationals hit in the series was one off the Mariners record for home runs allowed (11, Cleveland Indians, July 24-26, 2009).
Then came Ackley in the fifth.
Singles to Miller and Austin Jackson, who combined for six of the Mariners’ 12 hits, paved the way for Ackley’s hot hitting to continue; his 3-run home run to right put the Mariners ahead (73-62) a 4-3, and gave them the lead for good.
“That’s a product of seeing the ball well,” said Ackley, who now has hit safely in nine of the past 10 games. “Home runs are going to come. The better I feel, the more good pitches I swingat, the more home runs I’m going to hit. “
It was just enough for Iwakuma, who, despite giving up three home runs and admitting not to having his best stuff on the mound, led to far better outing than his previous one: exiting after a career-low 2 1/3 innings at Boston.
“(The Nationals) can make contact,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “… you have to move pitches around inside and go hard inside. … I was able to do that today and that helped.
“I kind of struggled, but I was able to change speeds on pitches and get out of jams.”
Iwakuma had previously been lights out in interleague play. He entered Sunday with 22 consecutive scoreless innings against National League hitters dating back to Sept. 13, 2013 at St. Louis. He’s now 4-1 in six career interleague starts.
Harper had two more chances to do damage, but to no avail, as the bullpen held the lead. Charlie Furbush struck out Harper (3-for-4) swinging in the seventh, and he was left waiting in the on-deck circle in the sixth and eighth innings with runners on base. The Nats were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Endy Chavez’s RBI double in the eighth was the insurance run, and pinch-runner James Jones likely wouldn’t have scored had he not stolen second and third bases during the at-bat.
Said McClendon: “You never want to be swept, particularly at home. Getting swept — that’s hard to make up.”