If the Seattle Mariners were going to win a game in this series, it figured their best chance was the night Felix Hernandez started against the Los Angeles Angels.
Then the Mariners jumped to a 5-0 lead in the third inning tonight… and lost on a walk-off wild pitch, 6-5.
They lost their fifth in a row by playing sloppy baseball against a good team, committing errors, making critical mistakes and – in the bottom of the ninth – losing on a Josh Kinney slider.
“It was not my best game,” Felix said, willing to take the weight. “I went to a lot of 3-2 counts, I didn’t have a good feel for the changeup, my breaking pitch wasn’t sharp …”
And neither were the men in the field behind him.
Offensively, the Mariners jumped Ervin Santana for five third-inning runs, all scoring on home runs by Dustin Ackley and John Jaso.
“When we’re a good team, we’re good in all areas of the game, and you saw that during our winning streak,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We’re a good defensive team and have been all year – just not the last two nights.
“Before that, a pitch here, a hit there, we win games we wound up losing and add that to our streak, it’d be impressive. But it’s a fragile thing. We gave them a couple tonight.”
At least a couple.
When phenom rookie outfielder Mike Trout hit a three-run home run on a hanging, centered changeup in the bottom of the third inning, one of the runners on base had reached on shortstop Brendan Ryan’s error.
“That pitch was dead center, right in the middle of the plate,” Hernandez said, shaking his head.
The Mariners offense, as it has often this season after scoring early, simply disappeared. After that five-run third, Seattle collected only two hits.
One of those was Michael Saunders’ leadoff double in the fifth inning, which created an instant scoring opportunity for a team leading, 5-3.
“Just a mental error, one he’ll never make again,” Wedge said. “He messed up.”
The bottom of the fifth inning was worse.
Back-to-back singles and a walk brought up Trout again, batting .343 with 21 home runs and 63 RBI in 90 games, with no outs.
Trout flied deep to the opposite field, into the right field corner, and this game got away. Running hard, Eric Thames made the catch, wheeled and threw toward second base.
“I’ve got to keep the guy at first base from getting into scoring position,” he said, “and give Felix a chance to get a ground ball double play. I got rid of it too quick, I rushed the throw …”
Second baseman Ackley and first baseman Mike Carp were lined up as cutoff men toward the plate, and when Thames’ throw came in well short, Ryan tried to get to it on the short hop.
It bounced away.
The runner at third base, Howie Kendrick, scored easily on the sacrifice fly. So did the runner from second base, Eric Aybar.
“I saw Aybar round third and I was shouting to let them know,” Felix said. “It was kind of weird, two runs scoring on a sac fly. Baseball can be kind of weird.”
Even after the game, there was confusion.
“If he hits the cutoff man, we have runners at first and third and only one guy scores,” Wedge said. “He missed the cutoff man.”
But he didn’t. The cutoff man – Ackley – was lined up for a throw to the plate.
“If that ball gets down, the play is to home, so I lined up there,” Ackley said. “If it’s caught, the play is to second, which is where he threw it.”
And if it happened again tonight?
“I don’t know, maybe I should have played it halfway, then broke when I saw if it was caught,” Ackley said.
That play tied the game, and it stayed tied into the ninth inning. Closer Tom Wilhelmsen was in Seattle with due-any-moment wife, Cassie. The Mariners had decided in a save situation, they’d go with rookie Stephen Pryor.
In the eighth inning, Kinney had relieved Felix and worked a 1-2-3 inning. So Wedge sent him back out for the ninth.
A double, intentional walk, sacrifice bunt and a second intentional walk loaded the bases with Angels with one out. Pinch hitter Maicer Izturis was at the plate, and Kinney was thinking double play ground ball.
“I threw him a slider, back-door, and I think if I’d thrown it right we’d have gotten out of the inning,” Kinney said. “That ball is supposed to break down and in to a left-handed batter. It just stayed out there and spun like a plate.”
Catcher John Jaso lunged for it, had it tick off his glove to the screen. Mike Trumbo scored from third. And the Mariners best chance for a win, at least on paper, was gone.