There is no sugarcoating this one. The Mariners let a potential momentum-building comeback victory slip away Tuesday night when their bullpen couldn’t protect a two-run lead.
The end came with knockout force.
Carlos Perez, a rookie in his first game, rocked the second pitch in the ninth inning from Dominic Leone for a walk-off homer that powered the Los Angeles Angels to a 5-4 victory over the Mariners at Angel Stadium.
“It’s unacceptable,” Leone said. “Especially after this team is fighting and battling. We’re trying to win some games. And to come in and give them that, that’s unacceptable by me.
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“I’ll be the one who wears this one, and I wouldn’t blame these guys if they all looked at me and like, ‘Hey, pick your (stuff) up’ because that’s what needs to happen.”
The bullpen struggles started an inning earlier.
The Mariners had just taken a 4-2 lead by scoring three runs in the eighth when Danny Farquhar replaced James Paxton, who was in line for his first victory of the season.
Farquhar retired Mike Trout on a pop to first, but the Angels put the tying runs on base when Albert Pujols singled and David Freese walked.
Erick Aybar followed with an RBI single through the right side of the infield that also moved pinch-runner Taylor Featherston to third base.
Johnny Giavotella then tied the game with a seeing-eye grounder through the left side for another RBI single. Farquhar held the tie when C.J. Cron grounded into a double play.
“It’s definitely upsetting,” Farquhar said, “but I think I got a little unlucky with those ground balls finding the holes. ... It was exactly what I wanted to do besides the walk to Freese to put the tying run on base.
“I executed everything I wanted to do. Just the ball found holes.”
Angels closer Huston Street (1-0) breezed through the Mariners in the ninth before Perez drove a hanging slider from Leone (0-3) over the left-field wall.
“This is a tough loss,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Anytime you have a lead going into the eighth inning, particularly with our bullpen, we expect to win.”
The Mariners dropped to 11-16 overall and need a victory in Wednesday’s series finale to break even on a 10-game trip that began with three victories at Texas before stumbling through a disastrous four-game sweep at Houston.
Tuesday unfolded as a pitchers’ duel before the two bullpens took over in the eighth inning. Paxton served up a two-run homer in the first to Pujols but nothing more in pitching through the seventh.
Even so, Paxton was tracking most of the night for a similar outcome to his first start of the season, when he gave up a two-run homer to Freese in a 2-0 loss to the Angels at Safeco Field.
That’s because Angels starter Garrett Richards gave up just one run in seven innings largely because, as they have all year, the Mariners pretty much flat-lined with runners in scoring position: 1 for 9.
That changed after reliever Joe Smith, with a 2-1 lead, replaced Richards.
Robinson Cano started the eighth with a double to deep center and went to third on Nelson Cruz’s slow grounder to third — Freese made a fine barehanded pickup and throw to get Cruz at first.
Kyle Seager tied the game by pulling a ground single through the right side of a shortened infield before Logan Morrison lined a single to center for his third hit of the night.
Struggling Mike Zunino then sent a slicing drive to deep right that hopped over the wall for an RBI double. Zunino had an RBI single earlier in the game for his first multihit game since April 12.
“I’m trying to get things going again,” he said, “get things right. I’m putting some work in, and I was able to get some pitches today that I could handle.”
Zunino’s double made it 3-2. After Fernando Salas replaced Smith, Dustin Ackley sent a fly to short left. Collin Cowgill made a running catch, but Morrison tagged and scored.
So a two-run lead with six outs to go. It wasn’t enough.
“Sometimes,” Zunino said, “I feel like we’re taking a step forward and then taking two back. We’ve really got to get this thing rolling. Once you pull the lead out like that, I mean, it was lights out last year.
“This year, we’re just making a couple of mistakes. Perez put a good swing on the ball.”