Each time the Seattle Mariners flexed their offense power Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs didn’t let the celebration last long.
When the Mariners took a one-run lead in the fourth, the Cubs answered with two in the fifth. And, when Seattle grabbed another one-run lead in the seventh, the Cubs took it back in the eighth, and never lost it.
Kyle Schwarber delivered the decisive blow, connecting on a two-run home run off Mariners reliever Brandon Brennan that gave Chicago the final 6-5 advantage at T-Mobile Park.
Brennan (1-2, 1.96 ERA), whose changeup has been a reliable weapon for Seattle so far this spring, left one in the middle of the strike zone, and Schwarber clobbered it 440 feet to right to push across the tying and winning runs, and hand the Mariners (18-14) their third consecutive loss.
“I was just trying to put it down instead of letting it go right down the middle, but he was definitely sitting on it, and got a pretty good piece of it,” Brennan said. “I’m pretty sure everyone in the stadium knew the ball was gone off the bat.”
The Cubs gave starter Cole Hamels a quick advantage to work with in the first when Daniel Descaslo launched a leadoff home run just over the fence in left center off Mariners starter Felix Hernandez. Braden Bishop, who was called up from Triple-A Tacoma earlier in the day to replace struggling center fielder Mallex Smith, nearly lost his glove trying to make an over-the-wall catch, and came up short.
Albert Almore later lifted an RBI single into center in the fourth to give Chicago a 2-0 lead.
The Mariners finally broke up a no-hitter Hamels had working into the fourth inning on their 13th batter of the game. After Edwin Encarnacion drew a leadoff walk, Tim Beckham sent a double down the left-field line.
That set up Jay Bruce with two runners in scoring position and no outs. Bruce grounded out to second, but Encarnacion scratched across Seattle’s first run.
Hamels struck out Healy before walking Omar Narvaez. Braden Bishop, reached on a fielding error by Cubs third baseman David Bote that scored Beckham to tie the score.
A two-out infield single by Dee Gordon and a throwing error by Chicago shortstop Javier Baez gave the Mariners the lead in the next at-bat. Gordon hit a sharp grounder, and wary of Gordon’s speed, Baez let a wild throw fly to first. It sailed several feet out of reach of Anthony Rizzo, and Narvaez scored to give Seattle a 3-2 lead.
Only one of the runs Hamels allowed in the inning was earned.
“We got some help,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “They made a few errors for us, and we took advantage of that early in the ballgame, just didn’t get the big hit obviously with runners in scoring position.
“We had the double plays late in the game certainly hurt us in the sixth, the eighth and the ninth. Those are big turning points. Double plays are momentum killers.”
Kris Bryant and Rizzo wasted no time putting the Cubs back in front in the fifth. Bryant crushed a leadoff double to left center, and Rizzo promptly launched a Hernandez sinker to center to make it 4-3.
The Mariners opened both the fifth and the sixth with leadoff doubles, but didn’t cash in until the latter inning. Healy doubled, Narvaez singled, and Gordon eventually drove in Healy’s tying run with a single to right.
Hamels was pulled with two runners on and one out in the inning and his pitch count at 95. But, his pitching line of four runs allowed (two earned) on six hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in 5 1/3 held. Domingo Santana grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end the sixth.
Hernandez, Seattle’s former ace who was making his sixth start in the No. 5 spot in the rotation, exited for the third time this season without a decision.
Hernandez hasn’t notched a win since his first start of the season on April 1. Three no-decisions and two losses in his next five starts have followed. He hasn’t allowed more than four runs in any outing.
Tuesday, he pitched six innings, allowing four runs (all earned) on eight hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. He threw 96 pitches, and twice gave up go-ahead home runs to Descalso and Rizzo.
“I thought Felix gave us a chance,” Servais said. “He kept us in the ballgame. He had a good curveball again tonight. He gets eight strikeouts which is great to see. They touched him for a few runs, but overall I thought he competed very well.
“He got through the sixth inning. I thought the sixth inning was one of his best innings of the ballgame. He continues to throw the ball well and roll.”
Hernandez recorded eight strikeouts for the second consecutive appearance, and is four punch-outs shy of reaching 2,500 for his career. He also had eight in his last start in San Diego, when he worked seven innings, allowing one run on three hits in a loss.
“I’ve still got it,” he said, smiling. “I’m feeling pretty good, that’s the main thing. My body feels good, arm feels good, pitches are doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Encarnacion belted a tie-breaking solo home run 418 feet to left field in the seventh inning. It was his eighth homer of the season, and pushed Seattle’s MLB-leading total to 60 through 32 games.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” Encarnacion said. “We’re going to try to keep doing what we’ve been doing before and get it back.”
But, Willson Contreras hit a two-out double for the Cubs in the eighth, and Kyle Schwarber followed up with the shot to right off of Brennan to give Chicago the decisive 6-5 lead.
Reliever Brad Brach (3-0, 2.92) earned the win for Chicago, and former Mariner Steve Cishek notched his first save after running into trouble in the ninth.
With the Mariners trailing by a run, Domingo Santana led off the ninth with an infield grounder that pitcher Steve Cishek couldn’t get a grip on, and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Edwin Encarnacion then walked, but Tim Beckham grounded into a deflating double play as Santana moved to third, and Bruce struck out looking to end the game.
The Mariners wrap up a quick two-game series with the Cubs at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday before beginning an 11-day, 10-game road trip to Cleveland, New York and Boston.
Seattle ace Marco Gonzales (5-0, 2.80) is scheduled to oppose Chicago ace Jon Lester (1-1, 2.37) in the homestand finale. Lester, a Bellarmine Prep product, recently returned from a hamstring injury, and is making his first appearance at T-Mobile Park since 2014.
The game will be telecast on Root Sports Northwest, and broadcast on 710-ESPN radio.