On a day when you think the Seattle Mariners could complete an unlikely six-game road sweep with reigning American League Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez on the mound, an unlikely event happened to prevent it.
Ten-time gold glove outfielder Ichiro Suzuki lost a fly ball in the sun in the ninth inning that allowed the Boston Red Sox to pull out a 3-2 win on an otherwise perfect spring Sunday at Fenway Park.
“Right when it hit the sky, I couldn’t see the ball at all,” Ichiro said through his interpreter Antony Suzuki. “It just disappeared. I didn’t see the ball at all. It just hit me. I was hoping the ball was going to fall into my glove.”
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Ichiro had hoped that even though he didn’t see it that he could somehow pull out a catch at the last minute.
“It’s a hard play because you have to make the right decision,” he said. “The moment that ball hit the sky I couldn’t pick up anything, it just disappeared. It’s close to impossible to catch that ball. The decisions were look to the sideways so the ball could get deeper into myself and maybe hit me, or run back and let it fall down for a single. But my instincts, late in the ball game and tight ballgame you want to make that effort. You don’t want to let that ball fall in and make it look like you aren’t trying.”
Wright was surprised Ichiro made any sort of play at all.
“I could tell he didn’t see it,” Wright said. “He actually came a lot closer than I thought he would. I thought it was going to sail right by him
Still it looked like the Mariners, who had managed to escape such situations the entire road trip, might survive the misfortune and get out of the inning.
Wright coaxed a soft ground ball out of Marco Scutaro that Chone Figgins gloved, looked Lowrie back and fired to first for the second out of the inning.
With two outs, it brought up the struggling Carl Crawford, who came into the game hitting an anemic .155, but had singled in his previous at-bat.
Crawford, who signed a $142 million contract in the offseason and was taking plenty of heat in the media and from the fans, came through, hitting a ground ball back up the middle to score Lowrie for the winning run.
“I had a chance to get out of it with the ground ball, but I threw a cutter to Crawford that got a little too much of the plate,” Wright said. “I was trying to get a shoe or glove or something on it, but he hit it too hard.”
Hernandez has had so much success at Fenway Park in his past. He has a career record of 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four starts at Fenway including a pair of shutouts.
So if anyone would seem like a sure bet to secure the Mariners sixth straight win and a rare sweep of a road trip, it would be Hernandez pitching in a place that brings out the best in him.
And for seven innings, he gave the Mariners all he could to live up to the expectations. But in the end it wasn’t enough. He left with the game tied and a no decision.
Was it as dominant as previous Fenway outings? No. But it was still pretty good.
Hernandez pitched seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits, while striking out 10 and walking just one.
“They made him work early, but he took control of the ballgame and was able to give us seven strong innings,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
The first inning was a grinder for Hernandez. He gave up back-to-back one-out singles to Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. After striking out David Ortiz, he walked J.D. Drew to load the bases. But he rallied to strike out Jed Lowrie.
“He’s real good at righting himself,” Wedge said.
He escaped with no damage on the scoreboard, but it left a toll on his pitch count. He threw 27 pitches in the first inning.
“It was just controlling my sinker more,” he said. “In the first inning, it was breaking too much. Olivo said I’m going to sit in the middle of the plate and just throw it because it’s going to move anyway. After that it was fine.”
Hernandez ran into trouble he couldn’t escape in the third. He gave up two straight singles to Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia to start the inning. He managed to strike out Gonzalez, but Ortiz got a hold of a 1-2 pitch and drove it high off the Green Monster in left-center to score bother runners.
“It was a fastball away,” Hernandez said. “I should have stayed with a two-seamer. I threw the four-seamer and it stayed right there.”
When Hernandez got out of the inning, he walked by Ortiz and the two exchanged some friendly banter.
“I told him, ‘I should have thrown you a two-seamer,’” he said.
But after the Ortiz double, Hernandez allowed just one hit, and striking out six of the next 15 batters he faced.
Getting 10 strikeouts against a loaded Red Sox lineup is an accomplishment. How did he do it?
“I don’t know,” he said. “They swing and they miss and they strike out. I had command of my secondary pitches – they were working pretty good. My slider was good today and my changeup and after the first inning I had all my pitches. I was painting the outside corners.”