Just score four runs.
So critical for the Seattle Mariners.
They didn’t, the Los Angeles Angels did.
It wasn’t for the Mariners not having chances. They missed opportunities in the ninth and 10th innings and Mariner-killer Kole Calhoun didn’t with his walk-off home run against Juan Nicasio on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Angels a 4-3 victory on Friday at Angel Stadium.
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And the Mariners (61-42) missed a big opportunity in the American League West standings, too, with both the Astros and Athletics losing. They remain a game ahead of the A’s and five back of the Astros.
This result shows just how much things have turned for the Mariners. They lost an extra-innings game for the first time this year after entering the day 8-0 in such games.
But Kole Calhoun … his first career walk-off homer.
That walk-off homer raised his season batting average to .201.
“Juan has thrown the ball really, really well lately and I thought he had plenty left in the tank,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters afterward. “It was a momentum play there. We didn’t get the run and it takes a lot of wind out of your sail and then he left the ball up. And Calhoun has not been missing those lately.”
Against the Mariners, Calhoun has some sort of dark magic going. He’s hitting .357 against them (10-for-28) with three home runs (tied for most he’s hit against any team with the Dodgers).
Against all other teams this season, Calhoun is batting .183 (47-for-258).
But the Mariners needed four runs. They are 43-12 in games they do that.
Dee Gordon had his third hit of the game in the top of the 10th inning, stole second and reached third on a throwing error with one out for the Mariners’ two All-Stars, Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger.
Segura walked and then took off for second base on a steal on an 0-1 count to Haniger. Angels catcher Jose Briceno, starting because the Angels traded catcher Martin Maldonado to the Astros, threw to second, which had Gordon darting for home.
He was originally called safe at the plate, but it was overturned on replay.
“It wasn’t a designed play by any means,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters afterward. “Jean had a green light to run to break up a double play and Dee just reacted to it. Very, very close play at the plate, but they made the play.”
Except, Gordon said that third-base coach Scott Brosius told him before Segura took off that Gordon should take off for the plate.
“Bro let me know ahead of time that if they throw through, you go home,” Gordon said. “And that’s what I did and they made the play.
“We had the play on and they made a good play.”
Maybe it wasn’t a designed play, with Brosius telling Gordon to go in case Segura did. But Servais was adamant that was about Gordon’s instinct.
“It’s an instinct play by Dee,” Servais said. “Thought he had a chance to make it. Just came up an eye lash short.”
But a tough one with Haniger up and Nelson Cruz due after.
Segura was still at second base, but Haniger struck out to end the inning.
Then Calhoun against Nicasio – and that was the ball game.
The Mariners’ month-long anemic offense posted zeros against Angels starter Andrew Heaney into the fifth inning, with the Angels spotted to a 3-0 lead.
The Mariners offense entered this game with a .232 team batting average in July – their worst average of any month so far. Their previous low was .256 in the first month.
So leave it to the bottom of their order to try to untangle this funk.
Mike Zunino had his second hit of the day, following his home run with a line-drive that had left fielder Justin Upton spinning around, to lead off the eighth inning – the Mariners trailing, 3-2.
Andrew Romine entered as a pinch runner and after Ben Gamel moved him to third, Guillermo Heredia found just enough room on a bloop single to right field to tie the game.
So Heredia and Zunino had two hits each. Zunino entered with a .185 season batting average, and Heredia was hitting .225.
“I thought we did some better things offensively,” Servais said. “We just have to finish it off. Those are games we have been typically winning ... we just didn’t finish off the deal.”
Zunino started the scoring in the fifth. He saw a fastball that painted the outside corner of the plate and he hit it for what seemed like it might be a routine pop up.
But Zunino is quite strong. It went opposite way and thanks to a short porch in right field and thanks to right fielder Kole Calhoun not being any taller than 5-foot-10, Zunino had his 13th home run of the season.
That was Zunino’s first homer since June 29, a span that included 18 days on the disabled list.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="es" dir="ltr">Tablazo solitario de Mike Zunino y finalmente nos ponemos en la pizarra <br>Angels 3, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LosMarineros?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LosMarineros</a> 1<br>Sigue las jugadas: <a href="https://t.co/pwGyRc5XAt">https://t.co/pwGyRc5XAt</a> <a href="https://t.co/oxRZEuYun4">pic.twitter.com/oxRZEuYun4</a></p>— Marineros de Seattle (@LosMarineros) <a href="https://twitter.com/LosMarineros/status/1023046188218634240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 28, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
It traveled 345 feet.
Speaking of first home runs in a while – Cruz sent an opposite-field missile out to right-center for his first home run since July 4, and he cut the Angels’ lead to 3-2. Cruz hit it 410 feet.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Nelson Cruz with an HR to bring the <a href="https://twitter.com/Mariners?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Mariners</a> closer. Join <a href="https://twitter.com/hyphen18?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@hyphen18</a> & <a href="https://twitter.com/JenTalksSports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JenTalksSports</a> for the postgame show on <a href="https://twitter.com/ROOTSPORTS_NW?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ROOTSPORTS_NW</a> <a href="https://t.co/6iuX4KGqqH">pic.twitter.com/6iuX4KGqqH</a></p>— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) <a href="https://twitter.com/ROOTSPORTS_NW/status/1023052216507105280?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 28, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
So a 345-foot home run, a 410-foot home run … and then a 396-foot out?
Kyle Seager almost made it back-to-back home runs, following Cruz with a shot to straightaway center field – AKA Mike Troutland.
And Trout taketh away. He leaped at the wall for what seemed like what would have otherwise been the game-tying homer, but instead Seager walked back to the dugout.
Seager’s previous at-bat was snared and shortstop Andrelton Simmons robbed him of a base hit. So not such an enjoyable day for Seager.
It wasn’t such an enjoyable start for LeBlanc, either.
The Angels loaded the bases on a bloop single from Jose Briceno in the second inning before Calhoun lined a ground-rule double for two Angels runs.
David Fletcher followed with a sacrifice fly to stake the Angels to a 3-0 lead.
Except LeBlanc settled in. He even struck Trout out in the fifth inning (on an 84.7-mph fastball). He allowed the three runs on five hits and walked three batters in six innings. He struck out six after he tied a career-high with 10 strikeouts his previous start.
LeBlanc was out, but Heaney was through the seventh inning and had thrown just 66 pitches.
Even after the Mariners tied the game in the eighth, Heaney still had thrown just 81 pitches. LeBlanc threw 84 in six innings.
The Mariners had a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth. Nelson Cruz led off with a single, was pulled for pinch-runner Denard Span, and Kyle Seager walked.
After Ryon Healy struck out, Chris Herrmann lined a shot down the first-base line, but Albert Pujols, the 38-year-old, dived to his left, snared it and saved what was likely a Mariners lead.
But he moved the runners to second and third before Ben Gamel struck out.
A few takeaways:
An inning after the Mariners had runners at first and second with no outs, but didn’t score, they had Dee Gordon at third base with one out and their All-Stars due – Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger – in the 10th.
Gordon got there with his third single, then he stole second and reached third on catcher Jose Briceno’s throwing error.
Haniger was down 0-1 in the count after Segura walked when Segura took off for second and Briceno threw. So Gordon darted for home.
He was originally ruled safe, but replay showed Briceno had applied the tag just before he crossed the plate. It was close, but the call was overturned from New York for the second out.
Haniger then struck out with Segura at second base.
Wade LeBlanc snuck an 84.7-mph fastball on the bottom outside corner of the plate against Mike Trout in the fifth inning.
Trout looked, argued and that was the slowest fastball the greatest player of this generation has struck out on in his career.
Something LeBlanc can tell his kids about.
That was LeBlanc’s sixth strikeout of the day, one start after tying a career high with 10 strikeouts in the Mariners’ win over the White Sox.
For most, that fly ball Mike Zunino hit toward right field in the fifth inning is a routine out.
Actually, in many ball parks that’s still a routine out.
But Zunino is quite strong and he got just enough of the first-pitch sinker from Andrew Heaney to get it over Kole Calhoun’s glove and over the short porch in right field for a solo home run – it traveled 345 feet.
He’ll take it.
Between his stint on the disabled list and his offensive struggles, that was Zunino’s first home run since June 29.
Play of the game
Servais said it was an instinct play from Dee Gordon on the steal home in the top of the 10th inning.
But Gordon said that third-base coach Scott Brosius told him that if Jean Segura takes off for second base, he should dart for the go-ahead run at the plate.
Gordon was originally ruled safe, but the call was overturned on replay when Ian Kinsler took the throw to second from Jose Briceno and fired it right back to get Gordon just in time.
“Bro told me that was the play and they executed well,” Gordon said. “We had the play on and they made a good play … they got a Gold Glove shortstop and a Gold Glove second baseman and they made a good play.”
Angels starter Andrew Heaney needed just 81 pitches to toss eight innings. He allowed seven hits and three runs with five strikeouts.
Wade LeBlanc tossed six innings and allowed three runs on five hits and allowed three walks. He struck out five.
Juan Nicasio took the loss. He pitched a perfect ninth inning, but then Calhoun hit the walk-off against him when the Mariners ran him back out to the mound for the 10th inning.
Mike Zunino got his bat going – and it had been a while.
Zunino finished 2-for-3 with his first home run since June 29 and then a rope of a double to left field in the eighth that eventually led to the game-tying run.
Dee Gordon had a game, as well – he finished 3-for-5.
But how about the Mariner killer? Kole Calhoun raised his season batting average to .201 with a 2-for-4 performance. He drove in three of the Angels’ four runs from the No. 9 spot in the order with the walk-off home run, and a two-run double.
“It stinks how it’s happening for us right now,” Dee Gordon said. “But it’s part of it. We have to build off of this and continue to grow. We can’t go home now. We have a lot more games to play and we just have to see how it goes.”