In the first September of his big-league career, Erasmo Ramirez was introduced to a pennant race Tuesday - and pitched as if he belonged in one.
The Seattle Mariners? Not so much.
After blowing a 2-0 lead in the ninth inning, the Mariners had point-blank scoring opportunities in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 16th innings – missed all of them – and lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the 18th, 4-2.
Rookie Lucas Luetge gave up a pair of walks and two hits to open the top of the 18th, pushing Baltimore to a win that put them 20 games above .500 for the first time in 2012.
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Seattle fell to 70-79 and, in the fourth-longest game in franchise history, showed why.
Aside from a two-run home run in the fourth inning by Miguel Olivo, the Mariners couldn’t score.
Given his second start since a Sept. 1 recall, the 22-year-old Ramirez shut Baltimore out for eight innings on two hits, needing 95 pitches to get 24 outs.
Manager Eric Wedge, with closer Tom Wilhelmsen warming up, thought the kid had earned the chance to complete his shutout and sent Ramirez back out.
Two pitches later, the Orioles had runners at first and second base, and while Ramirez walked to the dugout to an ovation, Wilhelmsen trotted into a mess.
A man who’d saved the six wins Seattle had in September, Wilhelmsen couldn’t close this one out in the ninth inning. Baltimore used a bunt to move runners up, then got a Chris Davis single to tie the game at 2.
If that Safeco Field crowd of 12,608 was stunned, it shouldn’t have been. The Orioles came into the game one win from moving into first place in the American League East, and the win inched them ahead of New York.
The Mariners began the night 18 games behind Texas in the AL West – and 10 ½ out of third place.
Seattle had the chance to win it in the 10th inning and might have had they been able to get a sacrifice bunt down. Dustin Ackley led off the inning with a single, and Franklin Gutierrez tried to bunt him along.
Instead, he popped the attempt up to the mound for the first out. Had Ackley been at second base, he’d have scored on Kyle Seager’s subsequent single to center – if the Orioles had pitched to him.
That ‘rally’ also cost the Mariners left fielder Michael Saunders, called out on strikes against side-armer Darren O’Day to end the 10th. Saunders didn’t like the call, and home plate umpire Jordan Baker ejected him.
Again in the 11th, the Mariners opened with a single, this one by Justin Smoak, who was replaced by pinch runner Chone Figgins. Asked to bunt Figgins along, Casper Wells popped his attempt to a charging third baseman.
In their 149th game, the Mariners couldn’t bunt a ball into the ground.
The Orioles didn’t score against Ramirez for eight innings, the only runs Seattle managed in the same span came on one swing.
Facing 12-game winner Wei-Yin Chen, Seattle got its runs in the fourth inning, when Wells walked and catcher l Olivo – likely in his final weeks with the Mariners – hit his 11th home run.
It wasn’t cheap, banging off the out-of-town scoreboard beyond the Mariners bullpen in left-center field. Before the game ended, Olivo walked three times, stole a base and caught every Mariners pitch thrown.
Until the ninth, however, the game belonged to Ramirez.
Topping out at 94 mph, mixing in a changeup that froze hitters like Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds, Ramirez retired the first nine Baltimore batters he faced and got 14 of the first 15.
When the Mariners first reported to spring training in February, Ramirez was something of a secret weapon. Brought in along with more highly visible rookies like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, it was the 5-foot-11 Ramirez who opened the season on the Seattle pitching staff.
He spent a month in the bullpen, crafting a 2.45 earned run average in seven appearances, then was sent to Class AAA Tacoma. Returned to Seattle in June, he made four starts – went 0-2 – and landed on the disabled list with a strained elbow.
On Sept. 1, Ramirez came back up for the third time, pitched out of the bullpen, then slid back into Seattle’s rotation. In two starts, he’s beaten Toronto and pitched brilliantly against Baltimore.
In doing so, he’s won more fans than games, and become a solid candidate for the 2013 Seattle rotation.