SEATTLE — It bears repeating amid the hype and expectations surrounding the Mariners that…well, first, that even the best clubs, and players, hit rough patches on occasion.
It happened early Wednesday night to Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who gave up five quick runs in a 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
“I tried to be too perfect at times,” he said, “and I couldn’t get those strikes when I wanted to. I fell behind, and it kind of cost me.”
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And it happened late Wednesday when the Mariners’ new-look attack got nothing from a golden opportunity in the eighth inning — two on with none out; and bases loaded with one out.
Angels reliever Joe Smith squelched the threat by registering key strikeouts against Nelson Cruz and Rickie Weeks.
“He threw me pitches that were, probably, outside of the zone,” Cruz admitted. “And I was swinging. I should be more patient in that situation.”
Note, also, these were the Angels, who finished 12 games ahead of the Mariners a year ago while winning the American League West Division — and also winning more games, 98, than any team in either league.
And these Angels shook off a standing eight in Monday’s loss to Felix Hernandez by winning the final two games in the series. Point being…the Mariners might be, probably are, better than a year ago.
But Angels are still around.
“They had the best record (last year) in baseball,” shortstop Brad Miller said. “They’re pretty good, and we’ve had some really good battles with them. Last year and this series.
“This was a hard-fought series. I think that’s two pretty good teams going at it.”
As for Wednesday’s finale, Iwakuma got off to a miserable start and, really, that’s all that mattered. The Mariners pushed back some against LA right-hander Matt Shoemaker but not enough.
Shoemaker gave up homers to Miller and Kyle Seager but held the Mariners to three runs in sixth innings before the Angels went to their bullpen.
Jose Alvarez and Mike Morin nursed a 5-3 lead through the eighth inning before the Mariners stirred the crowd of 25,495 by mounting a threat in the eighth against Smith.
Dustin Ackley led off with an infield single to third against submariner Joe Smith. Ackley went to third on Robinson Cano’s double to right.
Smith struck out Cruz and, after failing to get Seager to chase on two pitches, issued an intentional walk that loaded the bases with one out for Weeks.
Another strikeout. Smith then stranded all three runners by retiring Logan Morrison on a fly to center.
The Mariners went quietly in the ninth against Angels closer Huston Street, who also closed out Tuesday’s tense 2-0 victory.
Iwakuma struggled to command the strike zone in the first inning and paid dearly. Mike Trout started the burst by yanking a non-sinker on a 3-0 count into left field for a one-out single.
Albert Pujols followed by crushing a 1-0 non-sinker into the left-field seats for a two-run homer.
It was home run No. 521 in Pujols’ career, which ties him with Ted Williams, Frank Thomas and Wille McCovey for 18th place on baseball’s all-time list.
“Obviously, I'm blessed to be able to share my name with those guys,” Pujols said. “If you had told me 16 years ago I was going to be able to accomplish all these things...I can’t even talk about it.”
Matt Joyce then beat an over-shifted infield for a seeing-eye single to right and went to third when David Freese pulled a double, just fair, down the left-field line.
Erick Aybar’s grounder against shortened infield skipped through Cano for a two-run error and a 4-0 lead.
“That ball stayed down,” Cano said. “It hit the grass and stayed down.”
The Angels added another run in the second inning before Iwakuma steadied.
“He's tough,” Pujols said. “We were able to get to him early….We got the series, and that's the important thing, especially after we lost opening day.”