SEATTLE Dominic Leone sat facing into his locker in another silent Mariners clubhouse. He lowered his head and buried his dark, curly hair into his hands.
“If they want me up here and I’m going to be up here,” the Tacoma Rainiers reliever as recently as Friday said, “I’ve got to perform.”
Sunday, he absolutely had to. Seattle had no one else left to pitch.
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That – plus more damaging stretches of non-existent hitting -- cost the Mariners a series win over Cleveland.
After using four relievers to get the Mariners through innings six, seven and eight, Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon basically ran out of arms by the 12th. That was when Leone walked the leadoff man then allowed a one-out double off the glove of first baseman Logan Morrison, who later said “I have to make that play.”
With no options to use other than a starter on an already-depleted staff, McClendon and the Mariners watched Leone (0-4) walk Cleveland’s Michael Brantley to force home the go-ahead run and allow David Murphy to single home two more. That sent Seattle to its 6-3 loss in front of 32,112 on a long (four hours and 36 minutes) Little League Day and Felix Hernandez Poster Day at Safeco Field.
[caption id="attachment_30744" align="alignright" width="480"] Mariners ace Felix Hernandez playfully dressing up as a hitter late in Sunday's 12-inning loss to Cleveland. Seattle could have used him as a hitter Sunday. Again. (Ted S. Warren/AP Photo).[/caption]
Asked what the plan was behind Leone, McClendon said: “Me. I was going to go back to my Little League days.”
The Mariners (24-26) took the waaaay long way to avoid reaching .500 for the fifth time this season. They will try to get back to within one game of it Monday with major-league wins leader Felix Hernandez (8-1, 1.91 ERA) starting against the New York Yankees.
“I can’t make any excuse,” Leone said, thinking also of his walk-off losses at Houston and on April 30 and at the Los Angeles Angels May 5. “I’ve got to be better than that.”
But this latest frustrating loss shouldn’t even have gotten to him.
Seattle had zero baserunners from the sixth inning until Seth Smith’s double off the glove of Murphy at the right-field wall with two outs in the 10th. Robinson Cano then grounded out to end that threat.
Nelson Cruz walked leading off the 11th and got to second one out later on a wild pitch. But Wellington Castillo grounded out. Then Willie Bloomquist – pinch-hitting for Chris Taylor, who is in a hitting abyss, after Taylor was a defensive replacement for 1-for-his-last-25 Brad Miller at shortstop -- lined out. That sent the game to the 12th.
“I can sit here and analyze it,” McClendon said of all that happened and didn’t happen in the maddening marathon. “But the fact is where got five hits … and the game went 12 innings.”
The Mariners have relied on the home run for nearly half its runs this season – 88 of its 183 runs, 48.1 percent, entering Sunday, the most in the major leagues. After years of struggling to hit ‘em deep, new slugger Cruz and friends had homered in nine consecutive games and 16 of their last 18.
Then didn’t hit one Sunday – and are now 3-11 when not hitting one.
But Seattle did get a welcomed, eclectic rally in Sunday’s fifth inning.
Morrison singled for Seattle’s second hit off Danny Salazar, who then inexcusably walked Miller. No. 9 hitter Dustin Ackley attempted a sacrifice bunt. Cleveland third baseman Mike Aviles threw that low and wide of first base for a generously scored single and error that scored Morrison; yes, Seattle’s first baseman lumbered home from second on a bunt play.
After a somewhat conventional single by Austin Jackson scored Miller, Salazar lifted his leg and leaned toward home to pitch while noticing Ackley leading far off second base. The pitcher turned and faked a throw at Ackley. Home-plate umpire Alan Porter immediately signaled a balk on Salazar for not continuing his motion to the plate.
That became a key play in the funky rally when Cano’s sacrifice fly made it 3-0.
It would have been 4-0, but right fielder Ryan Raburn sprinted far to his right and made a leaping catch of Cruz’s liner that was headed for the gap and the wall to end the inning.
Starter J.A. Happ then gave up his first two runs in 17 innings at Safeco Field in the next half inning. The first was Raburn leading off the sixth with a solo home run near the right-field corner. Michael Bourn’s RBI single scored Moss four batters later while loading the bases.
Morrison then made the defensive play of the day. He fielded a grounder by Jose Ramirez to his left. In the same motion he was stepping on first base with his right foot for that out, Morrison threw home just in time for Castillo to tag out sliding Yan Gomes. The deft double play kept the Mariners ahead 3-2.
Until the eighth, that is. That’s when Carson Smith allowed two singles to begin the inning. Joe Beimel entered that mess and Kipnis hit the tying sacrifice fly.
Seattle’s hitters know they lost this one -- long before Smith and Leone lost their control.
“We’ve got to hit better,” Morrison said. “We’ve got to produce more.”