It was just a tough night for the Seattle Mariners offensively. Ok, it seems like most nights are tough. They faced a very good left-hander in Derek Holland. And for five innings, it looked as though the Mariners might finally suffer the final badge of shame for their struggling offense - being no-hit.
For as bad as Seattle’s offense has been in the past few seasons, the team was never held without a hit.
It looked very possible on Thursday. Holland was that good and the Mariners seemed to have carried their first-half struggles to the second half.
The left-hander retired the first 15 batters he faced, striking out six along the way.
In the sixth inning, he lost his perfect game in the sixth inning when Franklin Gutierrez drew a lead-off walk. The no-hitter bid was gone moments later, broken up the unlikeliest of Mariners. Chone Figgins got a 2-1 fastball he could handle and dumped it into right-center. With the no-hitter gone, Holland showed solid poise and retired the next three hitters. He got Greg Halman to pop up for the first out. Ichiro Suzuki grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second. Holland then got Brendan Ryan to pop out to center to end the inning and any sort of a scoring threat.
Holland finished the game, throwing 118 pitches with 79 of them going for strikes. He struck out eight and walked just one. And there was maybe one or two balls hit with any sort of pace.
“He definitely has the repertoire,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “That’s two in a row he’s thrown the ball the way we know he’s capable of throwing it. If he can stay consistent like that, throwing the ball in the strike zone, I think he’s going to be fine.”
There was nothing tricky or fancy about Holland’s game plan. He went right at Mariners hitters, using his fastball early and often. Of his 118 pitches, 81 were fastballs.
“He was going after guys with his fastball,” said left fielder Greg Halman. “Any time a guy comes at you with fastballs … you are supposed to hit them.”
The Mariners did hit them for the most part, but not very hard or very far. All five hits were singles and four of them were soft line drives at best.
“Until these guys take some risks and barrel up the ball and make some adjustments off the opposing pitcher, we are going to struggle,” Wedge said. “It’s a one-on-one battle up there and our guys have to do a better job.”
Jason Vargas would have had to be perfect to beat them or at least carry a 0-0 tie into the bottom of the ninth.
But he wasn't perfect, he was sort of ordinary, giving up 12 hits, including three solo homers in six innings of work.
“He threw the ball okay,” Wedge said. “They’re a good hitting ball club. They hit a couple of good pitches. They hit a few pitches they should hit.”
In the first inning, Vargas threw one of those pitches the Rangers should hit. He made a mistake and left a changeup up in the strike zone which Josh Hamilton deposited into the right field bleachers.
Nelson Cruz followed with a solo homer in the second inning, muscling a pitch over the wall in right field.
Texas added a run in the third on a Michael Young RBI single.
Down 3-0, the Mariners were pretty much out of hope with the way Holland was pitching.
The Rangers put it well out of reach in the sixth. Mike Napoli led off with a homer to right-center and Elvis Andrus doubled home Chris Gentry to make it 5-0.
The homers to Cruz and Napoli frustrated Vargas because he felt like he made good pitches on both.
“They hit some pretty good pitches out,” Vargas said. “I can’t really make those pitches better unless I throw them in the dirt. You just have to tip your hat to him and Napoli. They were good pitches. It’s where I wanted them. Good hitting teams can make you pay some times.”
And going against a good-hitting team, some offense needs to be provided by your teammates.
Vargas got none.