SEATTLE — It doesn’t help — does it? — to know that old friend Erasmo Ramirez had been pitching well before he arrived Thursday night and stuck it to his former employers, the Seattle Mariners.
Didn’t think so.
This 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay was just one more punch for the Mariners to absorb in an ongoing June swoon that has them plunging toward last place in the American League West Division.
They’re not there yet; they still have a two-game lead over Oakland.
But this makes six straight losses, and the recent lament of running up against a series of the game’s better arms — which is true — rings hollow when they flatline against Ramirez.
“Tonight is one of those nights,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “that leaves you scratching your head.”
Ramirez is a guy, as any Mariners fan knows, who proved maddeningly inconsistent over the previous three years before he ran out of options, which forced a March 31 trade to Tampa Bay for lefty Mike Montgomery.
(And, OK, Montgomery had an encouraging big-league debut earlier in the week. The trade isn’t necessarily a bust.) But the last thing the Mariners needed was for Ramirez to shut them down.
Which is what happened.
“It was kind of weird,” Ramirez admitted. “It’s the first time (facing the Mariners) in my life. They know me, I know them, and they’re the kind of team that can hit everybody.
“I just tried to make sure the ball was where the catcher was calling it and let the guys play defense.”
The Mariners wasted another fine starting effort from Roenis Elias (2-3), (VIDEO LINK) who gave up two runs in eight innings while lowering his ERA to 2.94.
Their attack remains devastatingly ineffective with runners in scoring position: 1-for-11 on this night. And they torpedoed their best opportunity when Robinson Cano got picked off first base…by Ramirez. (VIDEO LINK)
“I tried to do my best pick I can,” Ramirez said. “You have to be ready for everything. I knew that if we got him, good, but even if we didn’t, they’d know we were watching that.”
Mark Trumbo got two hits, both singles, in his first game since arriving in Wednesday’s six-player trade with Arizona. The Mariners finished with 10 hits — 10 hits and one run.
“We’ve got to get better at that,” Cano said, “but we can’t point (fingers) or blame anybody in here. You lose as a team, and you win as a team. We’ve just got to keep grinding and stay positive.”
Tampa Bay scored both of its runs in the fourth after Joey Butler’s leadoff single through the right side. The inning accelerated when, with one out, Elias hit Logan Forsythe in the foot with an 0-2 curve.
A double steal put runners at second and third before Everett’s Steven Souza, in his first game at Safeco, grounded an RBI single up the middle. (VIDEO LINK)
The Rays got another run when the Mariners settled for a force at second on Jake Elmore’s slow grounder to short.
That was enough because Ramirez (4-2) gave up just one run in 5 1/3 innings before exiting after 72 pitches with nobody on base. The Rays called on Xavier Cedeno, who immediately yielded a double to Seth Smith.
After Brad Miller’s grounder to second moved Smith to third, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash went to the bullpen again — this time for Brandon Gomes, who struck out Mike Zunino on a full-count pitch out of the zone.
“A split,” Zunino said. “I got a little overanxious. I knew he was going to go off-speed. I had the same situation with him in Tampa. He threw the slider there. This time, he threw the split. I just chased it.”
The Rays nursed the one-run lead through the closing innings. Kevin Jepsen pitched around a leadoff walk in the ninth inning for his second save.
Fact is, Ramirez has been on a roll.
After getting rocked in his first two outings, he has given up only 12 earned runs in 42 1/3 innings over 12 appearances — a 2.55 ERA. Ramirez is 4-1 with a 2.86 ERA in five starts since rejoining the rotation.
The game turned in the fifth inning when the Mariners, trailing 2-0, put runners at first and third with one out on singles by Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson.
Cano flicked an RBI single into center that moved Jackson to third, but Ramirez turned the momentum by picking off Cano.
“It was a great pick-off move,” Cano said. “He was really quick. He got me when I was crossing my feet.”
After walking Nelson Cruz, Ramirez ended the inning by retiring Kyle Seager on a grounder to second. The Rays still led by a run, which is how it ended.
Cano appeared to be looking elsewhere when picked off but insisted he wasn’t distracted. He agreed, though, that the pickoff changed the inning — and the game.
“Yes,” he said. “I would say yes. After a walk to Cruz, maybe a sac fly or something could happen in that situation.”