Brandon League has watched his teammates struggle for half a season now, as they did today in another of those games when the Seattle Mariners offense was more bark than bite.
Four hits – three of them singles – over 10 innings in Seattle’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox was just another offensive no-show.
A year ago, League was an All-Star, a closer enroute to 37 saves, but on Sunday he heard the boos of a Safeco Field crowd of 34,066 as he walked off the mound.
It’s a sound he’s gotten used to in 2012.
On Sunday, the right-handed reliever was asked to maintain a 10th-inning tie and couldn’t, losing a game one month after losing his job. If the Seattle offense has lost games all season, League can relate. He’s 0-5 with a 3.60 earned run average and nine saves.
While players all around him tried to explain how a major league team could hit under .200 at home, fail when asked to get a bunt down, League’s question to himself was more difficult answer.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong,” League said. “I know it’s not one thing, because I could fix one thing. I’d stop doing it. I don’t even know if the problem is physical or mental.”
It’s a question most of the Mariners could ask themselves after another loss in which their pitching was marvelous.
Starter Jason Vargas went eight innings against a home run-hitting Red Sox team and, given one run, nearly made it hold up. In the eighth inning with one out, Dustin Pedroia homered to tie the game.
It didn’t matter that the Mariners had squandered opportunities throughout the day that could have given Vargas a cushion. It didn’t matter that the Seattle offense couldn’t execute the simplest of small-ball offense.
All that mattered was that, after nine tough innings, Boston and Seattle were tied at 1-1. And with a short-handed bullpen, manager Eric Wedge went to veteran League to get through the 10th.
“He’s been inconsistent, but he’s been in these situations before,” Wedge said.
Eight pitches later, the Red Sox had a one-out, first-and-third base threat going, and League was gone. Two singles, and with left-handed hitting David Ortiz up, Wedge went to left-hander Lucas Luetge.
Ortiz flied out deep enough to get the run home.
The Mariners were retired in order in their half of the 10th, and finished the first half of the season – 81 games – with a 34-47 record.
That it could have turned out differently Sunday was the issue of the day and the season, so far. The Mariners scored their lone run in the third inning, setting it up with back-to-back singles from Chone Figgins and Brendan Ryan.
Ichiro Suzuki flied out to score Figgins, but Casper Wells struck out. Ryan stole second base, took third on catcher Kelly Shoppach’s errant throw. Kyle Seager was hit by a pitch.
And there it was, a point blank scoring opportunity. Two out, man on first, man on third and cleanup hitter Jesus Montero up.
Montero flied out.
An inning later, Boston’s Felix Doubrant lost the strike zone long enough to walk Miguel Olivo, then Justin Smoak, to open the fourth.
“Two on, no one out, we’ve got to get more done than we got done,” Wedge said. “We get the bunt down there, it’s a different inning and probably a different game.”
Dustin Ackley tried to bunt, failed and struck out. As bad, with Figgins up, Olivo tried to advance to third base on a pitch in the dirt and was caught off base and tagged out.
Figgins flied out.
“I cost us at a crucial time,” Ackley said. “I’ve always been a good bunter, but the past two, three times I’ve been asked to bunt, I haven’t gotten it down. I’m trying to be too perfect, not let the pitcher field it. I’ve got to do better. “
Again in the fifth, the Mariners had Boston in a corner, loading the bases with one out on a single, walk and hit batter. And once again, cleanup hitter Montero was up.
A hit might blow the game open. A fly ball would score a run to make it 2-0. What Montero had to avoid was the ground ball – which he hit to third base, triggering an inning-ending double play.
“One sacrifice fly is what we got all day,” Wedge said. “We’ve got to do better.”
If the Mariners can’t hit home runs in Safeco Field, where they get great pitching, Wedge said they have to execute and manufacture runs. On Sunday, they stole three bases but could not bunt or get the fly ball that might have changed the game