The Mariners lost a series Sunday, which might not be as newsworthy as the fact the New York Yankees finally won one.
Their most recent series victory — a three-game sweep of Orioles — was achieved June 12. During the six weeks between then and Sunday, the Yankees were 0-8-2 over 10 series, their longest such stretch since 1991.
They had lost 10 consecutive series finales, as well as eight consecutive series finales on the road.
Then again, there is the road for the Yankees, and there is Safeco Field, a place where the permanent occupants apparently are traumatized by the sight of gray uniforms with the words “NEW YORK” on the chest.
Pro athletes are almost never intimidated, and would never admit it if they were. But how else to explain the Mariners’ tendency to take the field — their own field, it should be stressed — and become a specific opponent’s punching bag?
Seattle’s 6-4 defeat Sunday was the team’s 13th in its past 15 home games against the Yankees, who have a few power bats and a dynamite bullpen but otherwise are as beatable as every American League team not named the Houston Astros.
Speaking of the Astros: The Mariners took two out of three last weekend in Houston, where they capped off a road trip that returned them to the thick of the wild-card race. The 5-1 trip was both a quantifiable success and an artistic one, showcasing their potential to excel in every phase of a ballgame.
Then the Yankees showed up at Safeco Field, and all that went right on the road for the Mariners suddenly went bad.
Robinson Cano’s ninth-inning throwing error scuttled any chance of a comeback in the Thursday opener. The offense remained quiet on Friday, and though the Mariners managed to survive a 10-inning thriller on Saturday, the 10th was necessitated because closer Edwin Diaz couldn’t close things out in the ninth.
In the finale, leadoff hitter Brett Gardner put the Yanks ahead by driving Yovani Gallardo’s second pitch of the game into the right field seats. A pair of solo homers off the bat of shortstop Didi Gregorius fattened their lead to 3-0 in the fourth, at which point the Mariners stormed back with a four-run rally.
But that was it. Lefty Caleb Smith, a Triple-A call-up making his first big-league start, held Seattle scoreless through the first three innings, and when Smith was chased, the game turned into what manager Scott Servais called “a battle of the bullpens ... and theirs was a little bit sharper in the sixth inning.”
Their minds were a little bit sharper in the ninth, when Taylor Motter, pinch-running for Nelson Cruz after the slugger led off with a sharp single, strayed too far from first base and got picked off.
Down two runs with nobody out in the ninth, major-league utility players whose mental mistake costs their team a precious out generally become known as “former major-league utility players.”
Afterward, Servais was asked if there were a way to explain the Yankees’ comfort zone in Safeco Field. (Definition of a comfort zone: Any place where a team has won 13 of its past 15.)
“I can’t speak to all 15 games, because I haven’t been here that long,” Servais said. “But from what I’ve seen last year and this year, they’ve got a good club. We played them pretty good in New York last year, and didn’t play them as well here. I can’t explain it. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
Gallardo spoke similarly of the Yanks dominance in Seattle, pointing out he knew nothing about the history.
“They’ve got a good club,” he said. “They hit for power and have guys who can hit for average and they steal bases. And they make you work. They don’t chase very much — they’re very selective.”
Wondering out loud here: If the Yankees are as good as Servais and Gallardo insist, how was it possible for them to play 10 series’ since June 12 without winning one?
A question, to be sure, best pondered in Gotham. As for the Mariners — the Yankees’ version of 98-pound weaklings — losing three of four to a wild-card foe doesn’t alter the mission statement.
“We’ve got to just get back to winning series,” Servais said. “That’s been the focus here in the second half. Win the series, win another series, and see where we are when we get into August.”
It’s an ambitious but not entirely outrageous plan. The Yankees won’t return to Seattle until 2018.