Here was Yovani Gallardo’s disappointing season condensed Saturday to one afternoon in the Bronx: A promising performance completely undone by a bad stretch fueled by a nibbling lack of command and the long ball.
The result was a 6-3 loss to the New York Yankees that prevented the Mariners from grabbing the undisputed lead in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
The final score is deceiving.
It was 1-1 with two outs and nobody on base in the fourth inning when Gallardo had his Yovani moment.
Gallardo fell behind Greg Bird 3-1, worked the count full and gave up a single. He fell behind Chase Headley 3-1, worked the count full and gave up a walk. He threw a first-pitch ball to Jacoby Ellsbury before grooving a fastball.
Ellsbury sent a 336-foot drive that cleared the too-reachable wall in right field for a three-run homer. The Yankees led 4-1.
"That just can’t happen," Gallardo said, "in that situation."
Except it’s happened way too often — as has what came next: Gallardo steadied and permitted nothing further while pitching into the sixth inning. His final line showed just four hits in 5 2/3 innings, but he walked five and gave up four runs.
It amounted to another nearly, not-quite, almost but, ultimately, unsatisfying start from Gallardo, who is now 5-10 with a 5.78 ERA.
"We’ve seen that a lot with Yo, just not finishing innings," manager Scott Servais agreed. "It kind of gets away from him. The pitch count gets escalated because of it."
Gallardo is allowing 4.1 walks per nine innings, easily the most among the club’s starters, and his 22 homers allowed trail rank second on the club to Ariel Miranda, who is tied for the MLB lead with 31.
"It’s one of those things," Gallardo said. "You’ve just got to battle through it. It’s unfortunate. I got those two outs in the fourth inning, and then…just the walks. That’s what got me in trouble."
Gallardo’s brief-if-familiar hiccup proved decisive because the Mariners had no answers for Yankees starter Sonny Gray, an old nemesis from his days in Oakland. Gray (8-8) gave up just one run and three hits in seven innings.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 66-64 and kept them one-half game behind Minnesota (66-63) in the race for the final wild-card spot.
***Segura’s slump deepens: At what point do the Mariners begin to worry about Jean Segura? The Hit Machine’s average in in danger of sliding below .300 for the first time since April 7 after going hitless in five at-bats.
Segura is down to .301. Six weeks ago, he was at .352 before going 32-for-149 (.215) over his last 36 games, including 3-for-32 through eight games on the current 12-game trip.
Also a concern: Mitch Haniger is 6-for-42 (.143) over his last 12 games. He struck out three times Saturday while going 0-for-4.
***Chooch delivers: Backup catcher Chooch Ruiz had two of the Mariners’ three hits against Gray, including a one-out homer in the third inning that erased a one-run deficit.
Ruiz’s homer was his second of the season and the 70th of his 12-year career.
***Caution on Cano: Second baseman Robinson Cano tested his sore left hamstring in a series of pre-game drills. While he said, "I feel better," the Mariners initially opted for caution. Taylor Motter started again at second base.
For the second straight game, though, Cano served as a pinch-hitter in the late innings and then played in the field.
Cano limped from the field Wednesday in Atlanta, but an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exam Thursday revealed only slight inflammation in his hamstring.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners