The initial knee-jerk reaction is to look at what Seattle native Blake Snell did Sunday to the Mariners and wonder how he got away. And we’ll get to that.
Snell delivered the best start of his brief career by pitching seven dominant innings for Tampa Bay in a 3-0 victory that prevented the Mariners from completing a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
"He’s one of their top prospects," manager Scott Servais said. "We’ve seen him before. You can get to him early some times. You can get deep in counts and run his pitch count up. But he had three really good pitches today.
"When the changeup is that big of a weapon for him, its tough when he’s throwing (his fastball) 94 and 95. He worked out of a little jam there in the seventh as well. You've got to give him credit."
Snell (2-6) permitted just two hits while striking out eight and walking two in a 101-pitch effort before Tommy Hunter and Alex Colome completed the shutout. Colome pitched the ninth for his league-leading 36th save.
"I wish I would have come together a lot sooner," Snell said, "but I feel really good about where I’m at."
This was a missed opportunity for the Mariners, who wasted a rare solid start by right-hander Yovani Gallardo and dropped 1 1/2 games behind Los Angeles and Minnesota in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
Gallardo (5-9) gave up homers to the first and last batters he faced — a leadoff boomer by Kevin Kiermaier in the first inning a backbreaking two-run shot by Adeiny Hechavarria with one out in the seventh.
"That was going to be his last hitter," Servais said. "Hechavarria, one home run all year, hits an opposite-field homer…Just not our day."
As for Snell, it’s hard even now to blame the Mariners for not selecting him in 2011 when he was a promising senior at Shoreline High School.
The Mariners had the second overall pick in a draft packed with high-level pitching prospects and chose lefty Danny Hultzen, who was then regarded as the surest thing and safest pick.
And Hultzen validated those projections until a series of elbow problems torpedoed his star-crossed career. He now is often cited in cautionary tones as an example of how there is no such thing as a can’t-miss in the draft.
The Mariners didn’t have another pick in 2011 until No. 62 (when they selected shortstop Brad Miller in the second round). Snell was gone by then — to Tampa Bay with the No. 52 overall pick.
That’s how Snell got away.
Leadoff pain – Servais recently suggested the Mariners needed to change their pitching patterns at the start of games. That still applies.
Gallardo gave up a leadoff homer in the first inning for a third straight game when Kiermaier rocked a 2-0 fastball for a 443-foot drive to center field. (Falling behind in the count didn’t help.)
It marked the 14th (!) time this season that a Mariners starter began the game by allowing a home run in the first inning.
Strong defense – The Aug. 6 trade to acquire Yonder Alonso snatched full-time duty away from Danny Valencia, who started at first base for just the third time in the last 13 games.
Valencia responded by making a series of fine defensive plays. His best was a stretch-and-scoop play on a throw from shortstop Jean Segura to retire Steven Souza in the fourth inning.
It was a different story at the plate. Valencia went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
Promising signs – Despite giving up those two homers, Gallardo produced his first quality start in five outings since rejoining the rotation after a month-long demotion to duty as a long reliever.
Gallardo have up three runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. It wasn’t good enough Sunday against Snell and the Rays, but the Mariners will take that every time out.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners