Wade LeBlanc and Ryan Yarbrough had similar enough outings Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park, but Yarbough’s was longer, and ultimately one run better.
LeBlanc, the Seattle Mariners’ bulk pitcher, gave up five hits across six innings and struck out three. Yarbrough, Tampa Bay’s starter and a former Mariners prospect, allowed three hits in 8 2/3, and fanned eight. Neither pitcher gave out a free pass.
The one significant difference came with one out in the top of the fourth. LeBlanc let a fastball leak back over the middle of the plate, and Rays second baseman Eric Sogard sent a solo shot over the fence in right center.
“The whole game comes down to one pitch,” LeBlanc said. “I would like to say it doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes it does, and unfortunately we were on the wrong end.”
That was the only run scored in Seattle’s 1-0 loss to the Rays, and it handed Tampa Bay the series sweep. The Mariners were shut out for the seventh time this season.
“I thought Wade threw the ball really well, located pretty nicely, and just the pitch he left to Sogard there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Sogard’s having a decent year. ... He’s got a little sneaky pop, and we ran into it.
“There were a few 1-0 games around the big leagues today. It’s just weird with all of the offense we’ve seen this year, the pitching does show up on particular days, not just here, but around the league, too.”
LeBlanc, as usual, entered the game in the second inning following an opener. Matt Wisler seems to be the chosen reliever for that role — he hasn’t allowed a run in four outings — but threw two frames in Saturday’s loss, making him unavailable Sunday.
Sam Tuivailala was a fine replacement, working a scoreless first inning with one strikeout, and facing the minimum three batters. He has also held opponents scoreless in two games as Seattle’s opener.
LeBlanc allowed a one-out single in the second before retiring the next six batters before Sogard’s decisive homer. He allowed three more hits after that, including a pair of singles in the seventh, but avoided further damage getting former Mariners Guillermo Heredia to fly out to the warning track and Mike Zunino to pop up to second.
He threw 78 pitches in one of his more productive outings of the season, but still ultimately suffered his sixth loss.
Seattle’s offense could never string together enough to get LeBlanc off the hook. The Mariners managed one base runner in four of the innings Yarbrough pitched, but never more. The catcher’s interference call in the first, and three singles, were scattered, and Seattle never put a runner in scoring position.
“With Yarbrough, it’s a different slot, it’s a little funkiness, a little deception to it,” Servais said. “But, you’ve got to give him credit. He threw a ton of strikes, threw his breaking ball and got that cutter over any time he needed it, and located real well. ... He changed speeds a lot.
“I thought Zunino called a good game. They were back and forth with all of our guys. Hard to sit on any pitches or look for any particular pitches there. Again, you’ve got to give them a ton of credit. When you look at video of him and watch how he does it, he doesn’t do anything that really excites you, but the deception and when you throw that many strikes like he did today, good chance you’re going to have a pretty good outing.”
Seattle’s only three hits came on isolated singles from Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager and Tom Murphy.
Austin Nola gave the Mariners their best chance at tying the game in the seventh when he crushed a changeup to center, but Heredia made an athletic catch, banging into the wall to rob Nola of even an extra-base hit.
“Unbelievable play,” Servais said. “We’ve seen him do that before. He’s an outstanding outfielder, takes really good routes, and he can finish plays. That’s not an easy ball, that’s right up against the wall. You know you’re going to hit it. Big play. I was hoping Austin had gotten just enough to get it over the fence because if it stays in the yard, Guillermo’s got a pretty good chance to catch it.”
Not even slugger Daniel Vogelbach, who pinch hit in the eighth, could dig the Mariners out of the one-run hole, striking out looking on a curveball that appeared to drift off the lower outside corner to retire the side.
Yarbrough was pulled one out short of a complete game, and replaced by another former Mariners reliever Emilio Pagan. Omar Narvaez pinch hit for the Mariners, but grounded out.
“Rough series,” Servais said. “Losing sucks. It does. We played competitive games. We were right in it with a team that’s right in the Wild Card position. They’re driven by pitching. We knew that coming into the series. They made big pitches and shut us down when they needed to.”
Brandon Brennan tossed a scoreless eighth for Seattle, and Anthony Bass allowed a single in the ninth, but was aided by an inning-ending double play in which he struck out pinch-hitter Austin Meadows, and Murphy hurled a throw to second to catch Avisail Garcia stealing.