Perhaps it was inevitable considering what has transpired this season for the Seattle Mariners.
When they failed to score a run in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th inning, the possibility of yet another walk-off loss grew exponentially with each batter.
It was only a matter of time.
And then it finally happened in the bottom of the 13th.
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Mike Moustakas took advantage of a poor pitch from reliever Chance Ruffin on a 0-2 count - a fastball down the middle – crushing it well over the fence in right field to give the Kansas City Royals a 7-6 victory in the dying sunlight at Kaufmann Stadium.
“It was supposed to be fastball off the plate, and I just left it right down the middle,” Ruffin said.
It was the 11th time this season the Mariners have lost on a walk-off hit. It was the first time Ruffin had to endure the scene of another team celebrating like lunatics at home plate.
That Ruffin was pitching in that situation was indicative of the Mariners and their bullpen issues. Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge wasn’t able to use normal set-up men Yoervis Medina and Oliver Perez in the game because of excessive use during this road trip and the season.
With starter Joe Saunders not making it out of the fifth inning, the Mariners were forced to use Brandon Maurer, Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen and Lucas Luetge before calling on Ruffin in the 12th inning, who worked a quick 1-2-3 inning leading up to the 13th.
“The solo shot got us, but I thought Ruffin pitched well,” Wedge said.
Ruffin had not been on a big league mound in a Mariners’ uniform since the 2011 season, when he was acquired as part of the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Tigers. Ruffin pitched all of 2012 with Triple A Tacoma. He began this season in the starting rotation in Double A Jackson, before switching back to relief in Tacoma in July.
But he would use none of it as an excuse.
“I felt good,” Ruffin said. “I had command of all four pitches. I love those situations. I love pitching in a tight game like that. I’ve been comfortable pitching in tight games since college. It was a lot of fun being out in that situation. I just made a mistake.”
But Ruffin’s mistake was the result of the typical mistakes from his teammates before it got that point. Seattle rolled to a 5-0 lead after four innings. The Mariners jumped all over Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, scoring three runs in the first inning. Kendrys Morales delivered an RBI single and Justin Smoak crushed a two-run homer to right field – his 15th of the season.
The Mariners tacked on another run in the third when Kyle Seager took advantage of a mistake by first baseman Eric Hosmer on a throw in from the outfield.
Brad Miller made it 5-0 in the fourth with a sacrifice fly to left field to score Michael Saunders.
And yet, it felt like there should have been more runs.
“We had some chances to break it open,” Wedge said. “I like the five runs we scored. We had some other opportunities we didn’t take advantage of. That’s the difference for us offensively.”
The five runs weren’t enough for Seattle starter Joe Saunders, whose outing fell apart in the fifth.
After getting the first out of the inning, Saunders gave-up three straight hits, including a two-run homer to Alex Gordon. Saunders struck out Eric Hosmer for the second out of the inning, but would never get the third out. Billy Butler, who had five hits in the game, singled to right and Salvador Perez followed with an RBI single to left to cut it to 5-3. Saunders then walked Justin Maxwell. Wedge had seen enough,
“Joe made it tough for himself in the fifth inning,” Wedge said. “We tried to get give him every opportunity to get that final out.”
Brandon Maurer came in and struck out pinch hitter Carlos Pena to preserve the lead and then pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning.
“Maurer came out great,” Wedge said “He got the big strikeout there. And then ran through the next inning.”
But Maurer couldn’t sustain the success in the seventh.
He gave up four straight hits to start the inning, including an RBI double from Hosmer and RBI single from Butler to tie the game at five.
“You expect Maurer to get somebody out in that situation,” Wedge said. “He’s going to have to learn how get over that hump.”
Charlie Furbush replaced Maurer and gave up a sacrifice fly to Justin Maxwell to allow the Royals to take a 6-5 lead.
The Mariners appeared to be done.
The Royals turned to lefty Will Smith, who mowed through the Mariners in order in the eighth.
In the ninth, Royals closer Greg Holland, who has been close to perfect all season, had two outs and pinch hitter Raul Ibanez down 1-2 in the count.
But the unhittable Holland got hit. Ibanez ripped a hanging slider into the right field stands and tie the game at 6-6.
“I was just trying not to do too much,” Ibanez said. “I got enough of it.”
The Mariners weren’t able to get much more off the Royals bullpen over the next four innings, despite having runners in scoring position in three of them.
Louis Coleman (3-0) picked up the win in relief.