BALTIMORE — Believe in first impressions?
The Mariners wheeled out their new-look attack Friday night by plugging Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia into their lineup. And the new look looked a lot like the old look in a 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
Yes, it was just one game.
But, man, it looked familiar because Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen (12-3) virtually reprised his July 24 gem at Safeco Field by limiting the Mariners to one run and five hits in 7 1/3 innings.
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“Every pitch, he throws for a strike,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “That’s a guy who you can’t say, `I’m going to take one strike,” or `I’m going to make him pitch.’ Because everything he throws is a strike.”
The score tells you the Mariners squandered another strong pitching performance. Rookie lefty Roenis Elias, on his 26th birthday, allowed just one earned run in 5 2/3 innings.
That distinction — one earned run — is key. The Orioles broke a 1-1 tie by scoring what held up as the winning run after an error by rookie Chris Taylor in the sixth inning.
Two grounders were the difference, really. The ball that Taylor bobbled, and a two-out grounder past Cano that turned into an RBI single…the game-winning single.
“I did my job,” Elias said. “I just didn’t have the luck to win. That’s just the way the ball bounces. I pitched down and got those ground balls. They were tough plays.”
Chen departed after issuing a one-out walk in the eighth inning to Jackson. It was Chen’s first walk, after eight strikeouts, and prompted the Orioles to summon their trade-deadline addition: lefty reliever Andrew Miller.
Dustin Ackley’s grounder to second resulted in a force, but he then stole second and went to third on a poor throw by catcher Caleb Joseph.
Miller Robinson Cano, which put the go-ahead run on base, but ended the threat by retiring Kendrys Morales on a grounder to short.
Zach Britton closed out Chen’s victory for his 22nd save.
The Mariners finished with just five hits, including two by Cano. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Jackson was 0-for-3 with a walk; Denorfia was 0-for-4.
Manager Lloyd McClendon chose to see positives.
“I thought both of those guys made our lineup look real nice,” he said. “It’s a very competitive lineup. It’s a lineup that I’m proud to write out every day.
“I think if we play as hard and with as much energy as we played tonight, and we get that type of pitching performance, we’re going to win our share of games.”
Just not this one.
Elias (8-9) found trouble in the sixth when Manny Machado led off with a double to right. Adam Jones then hit a routine hopper to Taylor, who looked to make a play at third — and bobbled the ball.
“I just didn’t make the transfer,” Taylor said. “The play was right in front of me. Maybe I tried to be a little too quick. I just didn’t handle it.”
Machado reached third, and Jones was safe at first on the error.
Elias struck out Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis on called strikes, but J.J. Hardy lined a full-count fastball up the middle, past Cano, for a two-out RBI single. It was an unearned run, but it finished Elias.
“I was there,” Cano said, “but it stayed down.”
The loss dropped the Mariners to 56-53; they began the night trailing Toronto by three games in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
One positive for the Mariners: They aren’t likely to see Chen any time soon, but twice in nine days was plenty. He overmatched them over eight innings in that 4-0 victory at Safeco Field.
This was Chen’s first start since then.
“He was working on some extra rest,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, “and we’ve always got a real good return for that.
“I’ll tell you, it’s tough, when you have as good an outing as he had in Seattle, to come back against that same team and have another good outing. That’s tough.”
It didn’t look tough. It looked familiar. And it looked old.