Seattle Mariners: Hottest team in baseball.
That news lasted until Wednesday afternoon. The unstoppable force that was the Mariners into All-Star weekend and five games into the second half of the season was rocked to a halt in a 10-1 old-fashioned romp at the hands of the visiting Cleveland Indians.
Then the worse news.
Manager Eric Wedge’s “dizzy spell” before Monday’s series opener that kept him in the hospital two nights was revealed by the organization to be a minor stroke. Far more serious than at first thought, but at least by Wednesday afternoon he was back home.
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“Not the kind of motivation you are looking for, but I think, collectively, he’ll be in our hearts and minds,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan. “… You’d rather it be a pulled calf or something, but it is what it is. He’ll deal with it the right way.”
Wedge will stay home for the Mariners upcoming four-game homestand with the Twins and their ensuing road trip to Boston and Baltimore.
“We expect a full recovery,” said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. “You talk to him and he sounds fine and ready to roll, but we are going to err on the side of caution.”
The players learned of Wedge’s status following the 10-1 drubbing from the Indians in which they collected only two hits, allowed 13 and saw an active streak end that was the best in the major leagues.
The Indians’ Scottt Kazmir had a lot to do with the loss as he pitched a gem and was very un-Kazmir. Helping was that Safeco Joe Saunders was, well, un-Safeco Joe.
Saunders was pulled following 4 2/3 innings and allowed five earned runs – tying the amount he had allowed his past four July starts combined.
He entered with a 4-0 record and 1.73 ERA in July. More than enough to give the 25,688 fans confidence the M’s could push their win streak to nine games, give them a reason to take a look at the American League standings and continue Seattle’s label as the hottest team in the Majors.
“We just got flat out outplayed, out-pitched, out-hit,” Saunders said.
Saunders allowed three runs in the first inning when Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana pegged him for consecutive doubles. He later loaded the bases with one out in the third, but escaped with no damage.
“His location and his command was off, especially his fastball,” said Mariners bench coach and interim manager Robby Thompson, who will continue to manage the club in Wedge’s stead. “It didn’t help his secondary stuff, that was also off. Got the ball up, got behind in the count and they took advantage of it.
Though Saunders command wasn’t sharp, he controlled damage, with the score at 4-1 even as the Mariners offense was getting no-hit.
Then came the fifth. He got two outs out of the way, but was pulled two batters later, after giving up a walk and a single, in favor of inconsistent Hector Noesi.
End of damage control. Cue damage onslaught.
Noesi walked Drew Stubbs, then teed up a gift offering with a full count to Michael Bourn, which he accordingly launched over the wall in right-center for the first grand slam of his career.
It was only Bourn’s third homer of the season.
Also – it put the M’s in a gigantic crater of a hole, down 8-1.
“I tried to keep the team in there as long as I could,” Saunders said. “I was a little (mad) that I came out. It was just one of those days where it wasn’t our day.”
Justin Smoak finally delivered Seattle’s first hit off Kazmir to leadoff the bottom half of the inning. (Cleveland’s first hit came on the first pitch). But by that time Cleveland (53-48) had amassed 10 hits and made it 11 the next half-inning on Asdrubal Cabrera’s solo-homer – an unnecessary insurance run with the way Kazmir was dealing.
Long removed from his days as a dominant pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays, Kazmir is playing with the Indians on a minor league contract and spent last season with the Sugar Land Skeeters and Gigantes de Carolina in Puerto Rico.
The only run he allowed was unearned in the second when Asdrubal Cabrera fielded Michael Saunders ground ball at short and threw well wide of Jason Kipnis trying to get Jason Bay for the force. It sailed into foul territory in right field and Bay scored easy.
Kazmir threw eight innings, allowed just one hit and struck out seven.
“He had a little bit of everything,” said Smoak. “His fastball was really decepitive and he was throwing a cutter than you just go (Smoak shrugged his shoulders). Never seen that before.”
The streak was fun. But now it’s done. Nine consecutive wins would have been the most since a stretch in 2003.
The Mariners (48-53) can still hang their hats on three consecutive series wins since sweeping the Los Angeles Angels before the All-Star break. How they bounce back from Wednesday’s tough loss of both the game and the temporary loss of their manager should figure to have a strong bearing on how the remainder of the season plays out.
“They did a great job with the eight-game streak,” Thompson said. “They played very well, very hard, very good baseball. We’ll throw this one out the window and hopefully start (the streak) again tomorrow.”
“We just have to put this one behind us,” Smoak said.
The Mariners 1:10 p.m. home game Saturday will not be televised since it starts within the FOX national window. The time was set in cooperation with the City of Seattle because of the Seafair Torchlight Parade. … Reliever Bobby LaFromboise was designated for assignment Tuesday and the Mariners signed outfielder Aaron Barbosa.
Hisashi Iwakuma (9-4, 2.99 ERA) looks to join Felix Hernandez in double-digit wins against Kevin Correia (7-6, 4.17 ERA) and the Minnesota Twins at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday. Game will televise on ROOT Sports and air on 710-AM.