When last seen playing baseball, the Seattle Mariners scored one run in 13 innings and lost to Oakland – then took four days off for the All-Star break.
When they opened the second half of the 2012 season on Friday, they scored a pair of ninth inning runs against the Texas Rangers and lost, 3-2.
Will things change for the better for the Mariners in the second half? They could, of course, but for eight innings at Safeco Field, it would have been a tough sell for a crowd of 23,721.
Ah, but the Mariners ninth … in it they put together three hits, a walk, got one huge Texas error and ran into an out by rounding a base too far … and still had the chance to tie or win it when Dustin Ackley struck out with that crowd on its feet.
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“I took the first pitch breaking ball that I thought was inside and it was a strike,” Ackley said. “I took a second-pitch fastball I thought was away and it was 0-2. That’s a big difference. If it’s 2-0 I’m looking for a pitch to drive. At 0-2 I’m in battle mode. He got me.”
Joe Nathan did just that, picking up his 19th save, but the Mariners made him work.
“That’s just where we are right now,” manager Eric Wedge “We kept it close for just that kind of chance, and we had the opportunity to tie it or win it.”
The key play to that Mariners ninth inning came with one out and the bases loaded on singles by Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak and pinch-hitter John Jaso.
Michael Saunders hit a hard ground ball that bounced off the glove of first baseman Michael Young – an error – and bounced into foul territory.
One run scored, but third base coach Jeff Datz held the slow-running Smoak. Rounding first base hard, Saunders lit out for second only to find it occupied.
He was tagged out.
“That was a tough break for us, because Datz was probably the furthest guy from that play,” Wedge said. “Saunders was the closest to it and knew he could get another base.
“Everybody was hustling …”
Datz was willing to wear the snafu.
“Looking at the replay, I think (Smoak) might have scored, but there was a reason I did what I did,” Datz said.
Had the Mariners played a slightly better game, there would have been no bottom of the ninth.
Kevin Millwood made a game of it into the seventh inning, but two mistakes – one his, the other Ackley’s – gave the Rangers three runs.
Until the ninth, Seattle had only four hits and, rying to get his offense kick-started, Wedge had everybody running. Casper Wells, Seager and Ichiro each stole a base. All were stranded.
As for the Rangers, they took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, after second baseman Ackley dropped a double play exchange from shortstop Brendan Ryan.
Instead of two outs, he got only one. And the Rangers capitalized with a two-out RBI single from Ian Kinsler.
An inning later, Millwood gave up a single to Josh Hamilton, then Adrian Beltre’s 16th home run of the season. No, Beltre still doesn’t like hitting in Safeco Field.
“Kevin pitched a great game and left that one pitch up,” Wedge said.
The Mariners had one chance to seize control of this game, in the fourth inning when with one out they got a Wells single and walks to Jesus Montero and Seager to load the bases.
Lefty Derek Holland was clearly struggling. And first baseman Smoak – batting .201 – could relate.
Nine pitches later, the count was 3-2, and Smoak had hammered a foul ball into the second deck in left field. On Holland’s 10th pitch, Smoak popped up.
“That was probably my best at-bat of the season,” Smoak said. “ If I could have delivered there, we wouldn’t have batted in the ninth inning. I kept battling, fouling off pitches, hitting the ball hard. I’ve got to come through there.”
Miguel Olivo flied out to right field behind Smoak, and that was the closest Seattle came to a run until they got help in the ninth inning.
“We had some good at-bats, made some tough outs early, then Holland settled down,” Wedge said. “We stayed close and these guys really battled there in the ninth. We just didn’t finish it off.”