It took all of 40 hours for the Seattle Mariners to lose the spring in their step. The challenge now for them is to make sure they don’t lose the spring.
Around 9 p.m. Friday night, the Mariners enjoyed a 5-1 lead in a game that figured to extend their winning streak to four and preserve their first-place lead in the division.
Around 4 p.m. Sunday, after a 3-0 defeat wrapped up a weekend sweep that found the Mariners losing their honored-guest status atop the A.L. West, manager Scott Servais was contemplating all the bad things that typically happen to good teams.
“When things are going well, it’s fun to ride the wave,” he said. “But it is a long season and you’re going to hit bumps in the road. I thought the Angels came in here and played us very well. We were right in every game, we just didn’t get it done. That’s going to happen.
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“As high as we were earlier in the week, to have it flip on us over the weekend makes it frustrating.”
Although Servais might have been frustrated Sunday, he wasn’t worn out — the Angels’ lefty starter Hector Santiago gave him little to do other than monitor the workload of Mariners starter Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez threw well, striking out nine and walking two before throwing the last of his 103 pitches with one out in the seventh inning. But the Mariners couldn’t muster any kind of threat against Santiago, a baseball-history buff who had a chance to make some history.
Until Chris Iannetta’s line drive single to left-center in the bottom of the seventh, the only hit Santiago surrendered was a bunt off the bat of Sunday call-up Shawn O'Malley. Santiago appeared to field the bunt in time to beat the runner, but he dropped the ball. Scorekeeper Eric Radovich ruled it a hit, a judgment call that makes news if Iannatta doesn’t connect for an authentic hit.
As for O’Malley, he was forced out at second by Nori Aoki’s grounder, and then Aoki, on the cusp of a stolen base attempt, got picked off. The afternoon — and the series — in a nutshell, right there.
The Angels brought a six-game losing streak into Safeco Field, where the large weekend crowds were expecting the Mariners to sustain their all-phases excellence. But the hitters delivered only in spurts — early Friday, late Saturday, never on Sunday — turning a winnable series into a grind.
The most conspicuous disappointment was a bullpen that has been so effective after looking like a potential train wreck in spring training. Closer Steve Cishek couldn’t shut the door during the first two night games, and while a closer wasn't relevant for the afternoon finale, the failure of the back end of the bullpen explains why the Mariners dropped their first series in more than a month.
Riding a “wave” on Friday — Servais’ term is applicable, given the high-pressure system that brought sunny skies to Seattle last week — the Mariners were as bleak Sunday as the weather that put them under the roof.
As baseball players, they understand the ebbs and flows of a season are not just part of the deal. They’re the entire deal.
“You don’t anticipate it to be the next day,” Iannetta said of the abrupt momentum reversal. “You don't anticipate when that stretch is going to be. You play every day. If you have some momentum, you try to carry it. And if you lose it, you can bring it back the next day and try to take care of business.”
The Mariners are off Monday, then looking at three games in Baltimore, followed by three in Cincinnati.
“We’ve played well on the road,” said Servais, referring to his team’s 13-6 record. “We’ll go out with a big trip ahead of us with Baltimore and (Cincinnati) and get it done.”
In the meantime, following the Mariners is to understand that the fundamental things apply: What goes up, must come down.
Sometimes in increments as brief as 40 hours.