Since actual victories seem to grow increasingly difficult in this final month of the season, the Seattle Mariners are searching for minor victories in defeat.
The season is lost. Games are being lost. And the end of the season can’t get here soon enough for most Mariners fans. But there are a few positives amidst the gloom.
On Tuesday night, the Seattle bullpen did what the Seattle bullpen has done far too often this season – give up runs. Meanwhile, the offense also did what has failed to do so often this season – score more than handful runs
And the Mariners did what they’ve done far too much this season – lose a game. The latest being a 6-2 setback to the Detroit Tigers at packed, but chilly ComericaPark on Tuesday night.
The Tigers went ahead for good in the seventh inning, breaking a 2-2 tie on Torii Hunter’s sacrifice fly off of Yoervis Medina.
Down 3-2, the Mariners had a great chance to answer in the top of the eighth inning against a Tigers’ bullpen that has been as equally dysfunctional as their own. With one out, Seattle loaded the bases against lefty Phil Coke. Detroit manager Jim Leyland replaced Coke with lefty Jose Alvarez to face Mike Zunino. The Mariners’ rookie catcher put a up a good at-bat seeing 13 pitches from Alvarez. Zunino fouled off third strike pitches five times, but on the 13th pitch, he grounded into an inning ending 4-6-3 double play.
“He put a great at-bat there,” Mariners’ manager Wedge said. “He was fighting and fighting and fighting and they ended up turning a heck of a double play there.”
The play at first was close, but Zunino looked to be out by a half step on replay.
“You have to get in defense mode and just battle,” Zunino said. “In that situation, a ground ball is the last thing I wanted. All I could do is hustle it out.”
The Tigers’ lead ballooned in the eighth when they scored three runs off of the duo of Charlie Furbush and Carter Capps to put the game out of reach.
It was the third straight loss for the Mariners (66-85), who have now lost eight of their last nine games as they limp to the finish line. In 16 games in the month of September, they have lost 12 of them.
So about those minor victories?
The first was for starter Brandon Maurer. After starting the season in rotation, getting optioned to Tacoma, returning to the big leagues and pitching in long relief and now back to being a starter again, Maurer had perhaps the best outing of his nomadic season.
He tossed five innings, giving up two runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts, which tied a season high.
“I thought Maurer was a lot better today, arguably the best start he’s had this year,” Wedge said. “With the time of year and where we are at, with some of the difficulties he’s had prior to this, with some of the lessons he’s learned, with the team he’s playing, I was really impressed.”
Wedge was particularly impressed with how Maurer kept his emotions in check. He didn’t let them dictate his pace or temperament.
“I was really impressed with the way he kept himself together, the way he slowed himself down and executed pitches,” Wedge said.
Maurer didn’t lose his cool after giving up a solo homer to Don Kelly in the fourth, coolly retiring four of the next five batters he faced.
“He’s just sort of settling in,” Zunino said. “He’s getting comfortable now.”
In the fifth, he gave up a lead-off opposite field homer to Miguel Cabrera, who ripped a fastball out of the zone over the wall in right field, for his 44th of the season.
“It was a four-seam up and away,” Maurer said. “That’s the best hitter in baseball right there. It was up and wasn’t on the plate. It was out a little bit. And he took it out oppo. That’s a good piece of hitting.”
Wedge replaced Maurer after he gave up a single to Prince Fielder in the next at-bat. But he believed it was progress.
“I felt like the focus and discipline was there for him,” Wedge said. “He didn’t get caught up in the moment.”
The other minor victory was more for personal achievement.
With the Mariners trailing 1-0 in the top of the sixth, Raul Ibanez belted his 28th home run of the season off of Tigers’ starter Anibal Sanchez to tie the game. It was just the ninth homer Sanchez has allowed in 172 innings pitched.
“He was really tough tonight,” Ibanez said of Sanchez. “At that point, he’d struck me out twice. I was just trying to put the ball in play and I got one in the air.”
The homer tied Ibanez with Barry Bonds (2007) for second most home runs hit in a season by a player age 40 or older. The 41-year-old Ibanez is now on behind Ted Williams, who set the record with 29 in 1960.
The Mariners other run came in the seventh inning when Michael Saunders led off with a triple and later scored on Kendrys Morales’ pinch hit single.