The Seattle Mariners, if not for some magnificent pitching, would be free-falling through their final week of games prior to the All-Star break.
And Tuesday, a fine effort by Chris Young simply wasn’t enough to overcome a renewed-and-growing silence from their offense in a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field.
The Mariners are now 2-3 since last Friday against the dregs of the American League Central and have two games remaining against the Twins before a measuring-stick weekend series against AL West-leading Oakland Athletics.
And the Mariners are fortunate to have those two victories after scoring just six runs their past 52 innings.
Only stout efforts by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, along with lockdown bullpen work, separates the Mariners from a five-game losing streak.
“Our pitching has been phenomenal,” said third baseman Kyle Seager, who was on an 0-for-18 skid prior to a single in the sixth inning.
“That’s been our backbone all year. It’s just one of those things where the last couple of games that we haven’t got any many runs as we’d hoped for. That’s the way baseball works sometimes.”
On Tuesday, at least, the Mariners cratered to an in-form Phil Hughes (as opposed to Sunday’s flop against former teammate Hector Noesi in a 1-0 loss at Chicago).
“We ran into a buzz saw tonight,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “His fastball command was exceptional. He was in and out. He cut it and sank it. He elevated. He was pretty darn good.”
Hughes (9-5) continued a rebound season by striking out eight in 71/3 innings before Casey Fien and Glen Perkins closed out the victory. Perkins pitched the ninth for his 21st save in 24 chances.
Young (8-5) gave up two runs and six hits in 71/3 innings.
“You tip your cap to Phil Hughes,” Young said. “He was better tonight. I made a couple of mistakes, and he didn’t … I need to keep that scoreless tonight. Maybe one at most and give us a chance.”
The Mariners see their recent offensive blues as little more than the cyclical nature of baseball.
“That would be the difference between this year and previous ones,” Seager said. “It’s the confidence level in here … We know how good we are and how good we’re going to be. We don’t panic.”
The Mariners (49-41) would be in postseason as the American League’s second wild-card team if the season ended after Tuesday’s games. They can, they believe, afford to shrug off small dips in performance.
The Twins got the only run they needed on Sam Fuld’s two-out homer in the fifth. He sent a full-count fastball on a drive to right that just cleared a leaping Michael Saunders at the wall.
“Falling behind (in the count) was a mistake,” Young said. “The pitch wasn’t necessarily a mistake. That’s just challenging the No. 9 hitter with a 3-2 fastball.”
Corey Hart led off the Mariners’ seventh with a single, which brought Endy Chavez into the game as a pinch-runner — until Dustin Ackley erased him off the base paths a double play.
And that, pretty much, summed up the Mariners’ attack.
Young started the Twins’ eighth by issuing his first walk — to Eduardo Escobar, who raced to third when Fuld flicked a hit-and-run single into center. The Mariners went to the bullpen for Yoervis Medina.
Brian Dozier pushed the lead to two runs with a sacrifice fly before Medina closed out the inning.
The Mariners chased Hughes later in the eighth after back-to-back one-out singles by Michael Saunders and James Jones put the tying run on base with Robinson Cano coming to the plate.
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire opted for Fien to get the left-on-left matchups against two All-Stars: Cano and Seager.
Fein never got to Seager; Cano bounced into, yep, another Mariners double play. Gardenhire called it “the biggest out of the night.”
The Mariners are 0-for-22 with runners in scoring position since Brad Miller’s RBI double in the 14th inning of Saturday’s 3-2 victory in Chicago. They are 2-for-36 in their past five games.
“It’s baseball,” McClendon said. “It happens. This used to be one of those ‘heck of a games.’ Low-scoring pitchers’ duel. Now, it’s ‘the offense is struggling.’ You can make out of it what you want. For me, it’s five games.”