TORONTO — Well, what next?
Rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker delivered a marvelous performance Wednesday night, but it still wasn’t sufficient to stem the Mariners’ late-season collapse in a 1-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
Walker matched Toronto veteran Mark Buehrle with zeroes until Ryan Goins delivered a two-out RBI double in the eighth inning that scored Munenori Kawasaki from first base with the game’s only run.
“It’s tough,” Walker said. “We didn’t win. It was a huge game that we needed to win. It’s kind of tough right now.”
Buehrle (13-10) turned in a vintage effort of spotting his off-speed repertoire to perfections before departing after Chris Taylor’s leadoff single in the ninth inning on a sharp grounder past shortstop Jose Reyes.
“He’s a veteran guy who knows what he’s doing,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He’s got great touch and feel. He had the cutter going in. Good change-up, breaking ball. Mixed it all.”
Even so, the Mariners put the tying run on base with no outs in the ninth inning and the top of their order coming up.
Aaron Sanchez extinguished that flickering promise when he replaced Buehrle after Taylor’s single by picking off pinch-runner James Jones.
“I should have been closer (to first base) on my lead,” Jones said, “instead of trying to take a chance there. He has a good move, quick feet, and he put the ball right where he wanted it.”
The Mariners challenged the call, but the replays showed first baseman Adam Lind applied the tag before Jones got back to the base. Sanchez then closed out the Mariners’ fifth straight loss.
And now, the Mariners’ postseason hopes hang by a thread; they trail Kansas City and Oakland by three games with four games remaining in the battle for the American League’s two wild-card berths.
This was, perhaps, the toughest loss of them all.
After a succession of four straight dreadful starts, the Mariners got a showcase effort from Walker who, while long viewed as their top prospect, is closing out a disappointing and injury-plagued season.
“In all of this,” McClendon said, “that’s one thing I don’t want to get lost. That young man threw a tremendous ballgame. He really stepped up. Did everything we asked him to do. He was outstanding…
“His last two outings have really given us a glimpse of the future…I said that with his last outing, I think he’s turned the corner. He’s starting to move in the right direction.”
Walker (2-3) gave up one run and four hits in eight innings. He struck out six, walked one and threw 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
It just wasn’t good enough.
Disaster struck after the Mariners won a challenge to start the eighth inning. First-base umpire Doug Eddings ruled first baseman Kendrys Morales failed to tag Dalton Pompey on a bunt up the first-base line.
Replays showed Morales applied the tag, but the delay affected Walker because he then walked Kawasaki on four pitches before striking out Anthony Gose.
“I was a excited (by the result of the replay),” Walker admitted. “Probably a little amped up. Probably a little too much. Had a four-pitch walk to the next guy (Kawasaki), a guy I have to go right after.”
Goins worked the count full before flicking a drive into short center field — Walker termed it “a jam-shot blooper” — that dropped between three Mariners.
The ball then caromed high off the artificial turf, which permitted Kawasaki — who was running on the pitch — to score from first.
“It fell right in-between all of us,” center fielder Austin Jackson said. “It was a tough play for everybody. We’re playing no-doubles (deep) there to try to keep the runner on first from scoring. He hit a ball into a perfect spot.
“He swung, and you’re sprinting in as hard as you can to try to make a play on it. It was just hit in that perfect spot.”