The Mariners embarked from Seattle to New York off maybe its most defining series of the season to that point, a four-game split at home against the Red Sox in which the Mariners won two of the first three games, and they had maybe their most defining win to that point in a furious comeback victory over the Red Sox on June 15.
Their record was 46-26 heading to the Big Apple. They were only two games back of the Houston Astros for the American League West lead and had a double-digit lead on the afterthought Oakland Athletics (who were a .500 team at the time).
But the Yankees sent the Mariners’ once-sparkling season spiraling after they swept the Mariners in three games in that June 19-21 series.
Now they’re working the nail into Seattle’s coffin, shutting the Mariners out, 4-0, on Friday night at Safeco Field.
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The Mariners were 20 games above .500 through the first 72 games the last time they prepared to play the Yankees. In the 69 games since then, including Friday, the Mariners are 32-37.
Only this loss sent the Mariners (78-63) to 6½ games back of the Oakland Athletics, who beat the Texas Rangers on Friday, in what’s becoming less and less of a race for the AL’s final wild card with every day that passes. The Yankees, meanwhile, still maintain a firm grasp of the AL’s top wild card.
The message from Scott Servais to his ballclub with now 21 games remaining?
“Come out tomorrow and we got to keep competing,” Servais said. “You can only play one game a day and try to get back into the ball game tomorrow, hopefully get some pressure on them early, get some runs on the board and see where it takes us from there.
“I don’t want to look too much farther ahead than that, and that’s where we’re at right now. We understand where we’re at and nothing you can do about it other than show up tomorrow and come ready to play.”
And looking much further ahead only provides a grim look into a postseason drought that’s approaching 17 seasons.
“We got to go out like there’s nothing to lose,” said starter James Paxton, who allowed four runs (on two homers) in six innings. “We going to have to get hot in order to make something happen here. We have to find a way to come together and get some wins like we were when we were hot like we were earlier in the season.
“We’re a one-run club. Just takes some pitchers have good starts, us getting across just enough runs and the bullpen doing a good job. Hopefully we can put it together here.”
New York hit a pair of two-run home runs in the first three innings against Paxton, who was making his first start at Safeco Field since Aug. 4 after a stint on the disabled list, and the Mariners mustered next to nothing offensively against Yankees’ starter Masahiro Tanaka.
Seattle had just three hits against Tanaka, who struck out 10 batters in 10 innings and didn’t allow a walk in an efficient 102 pitches.
That was the first time Tanaka has not allowed a run in at least eight innings since he tossed a three-hit shutout against the Rays on July 4.
“That’s about as good of a pitched game against us in quite some time,” Servais said. “We had a pretty good scouting report on what he does and how he does it. We’ve certainly seen him before, but he just didn’t miss. You have to really tip your cap to him, that was a dominant performance.”
It’s not like the Yankees were strapping loads of runners on the bases, either.
But two poor pitches cost Paxton.
One was a cutter middle in against Yankees rookie second baseman Gleyber Torres, who launched it over the left-field wall for a two-run home run. Paxton retired each of the first five batters he faced until those back-to-back Yankees hits.
The next inning it was a Paxton curveball that hunt high. Andrew McCutchen might have lost his luggage for his off day in Seattle on Thursday, but he didn’t lose his ability to hit. He sent it over the left-field wall for another Yankees two-run bomb, McCutchen’s first since arriving in New York following a trade from the Giants.
Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka retired 13 consecutive batters after Robinson Cano’s first-inning single against his former team.
The Mariners didn’t have their second hit until Mike Zunino lead off with a double in the bottom of the sixth inning. Jean Segura’s infield single moved him to third with two outs before Cano struck out with runners at the corners.
The pitch to Cano was basically going to hit his back foot. That’s how filthy that slider from Tanaka was.
“He didn’t show Robbie a slider all night until that pitch,” Servais said. “It’s one of those nights you just tip your hat. He did not make many mistakes.”
By the time Tanaka was through that sixth inning, he had pushed his pitch count to 75 pitches. Paxton threw 95 pitches in six innings.
“He didn’t even pitch me inside (until that strikeout pitch),” Cano said. “But that was really big. He was the same guy you always see, putting the ball wherever he wants.”
Paxton also struck out eight batters, pushing his season total to 194 strikeouts. He allowed five hits and the four runs.
But it didn’t get any better for the Mariners after Paxton exited, despite three shutout innings of relief from Ryan Cook, Adam Warren (in his first appearance against his former team) and Chasen Bradford.
A few takeaways:
Remember when the Mariners first headed for New York back in the middle of June?
They had come off a series split over the Boston Red Sox at home, with one of their biggest wins of the season in a 7-6 comeback victory that Friday before.
The Mariners were 20 games above .500 heading to New York on June 18 and only two games back of the Houston Astros for the AL West lead … not 6½ games behind the A’s like the Mariners were after Friday night.
Oh, the Mariners were 10 games up on the .500 A’s heading to New York that first trip.
If you recall, the Mariners then were swept in New York in the three-game trip before losing two of three in Boston in what to that point had been the most the Mariners had slumped all year.
Since the Mariners embarked for New York they are 32-37 in their past 69 games. They were 46-26 in the 72 games prior to that series sweep.
Paxton vs. Yankees
James Paxton made his 100th career start on the fifth anniversary of his MLB debut.
But this did not get him a ‘W.’
Not after two pitches cost him a pair of two-run home runs to Gleyber Torres and Andrew McCutchen in the second and third innings.
In Paxton’s two starts against the Yankees, he allowed eight combined runs over 11 innings, though he also struck out 17 batters over those two starts.
After his eight strikeouts on Friday night, Paxton moved to 603 for his career, which is the most over a player’s first 100 games with the Mariners in club history, more than Felix Hernandez (575), Erik Hanson (534) and Randy Johnson (531 in 89 games).
Play of the game
Really two plays. Pick your home run.
Gleyber Torres took James Paxton deep for a two-run bomb on a cutter with two outs in the second inning. Andrew McCutchen followed with a two-run homer on probably the only mistake curveball Paxton threw.
That was a 4-0 Yankees lead. And that was plenty.
Masahiro Tanaka used all quadrants, hit all zones and used all pitches effectively. Scott Servais said it was one of the more dominant outings by a pitcher the Mariners have faced all season.
He tossed eight shutout innings and allowed three hits with 10 strikeouts.
“He’s been that way, sort of, for the past couple months,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s had a couple of hiccups here and there but for the most part he has really started to lock it in.”
James Paxton finished his outing with three scoreless innings after really just two mistakes all game in the two pitches to Gleyber Torres and Andrew McCutchen. He finished with four runs allowed in six innings with nine strikeouts in his first start at Safeco Field since Aug. 4.
Weren’t many hits to be had this game. But Gleyber Torres, the rookie, went 2-for-4 with the two-run bomb in the second inning. Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-4 with three stikeouts.
The Mariners’ lone hits came from Jean Segura, Robinson Cano and Mike Zunino. Zunino led off with a double in the sixth inning but was stranded at third when Tanaka struck out Cano for the final out.
Not all mistakes go out for home runs. The two few ones that Paxton made did.
“Sometimes they foul those pitches off and sometimes they pop them up,” Paxton said. “Tonight they didn’t miss and hit it out of the park.”