The buzz from from the Mariners' 6-3 loss to Detroit on Friday night, which carried into Saturday, was Victor Martinez's remarkable 10-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning against Hisashi Iwakuma, which ended in a game-changing three-run homer.
Iwakuma had just issued an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, who had a notable bat of his own in his previous plate appearance. That put runners on first and second with two outs in a 2-2 game.
Iwakuma worked the count to 2-2 on Martinez and made a series of terrific pitches, which Martinez kept spoiling. Five straight foul balls. Iwakuma then tried to backdoor a slider, missed a bit on location, and Martinez put the ball in the right-field seats.
"Walking Cabrera," catcher Mike Zunino said, "we knew we had Martinez behind him. We knew we, technically, still had a base open. So we wanted to be as perfect (as possible in working) with that corner.
"We did a good job until that last pitch. He put a great at-bat together. The mental draining of that at-bat on Kuma’s side...it was a tough at-bat. He was staying away. He did everything we said in the mound visit. We wanted to go backdoor slider there, and it just caught a little too much plate. It was a little up.
"It’s the season (Martinez) is having right now. He’s so locked in. It’s amazing to see a hitter that zoned in right now. It was a great at-bat. It was all off-speed, except we threw one fastball, and he fouled it straight back like he was sitting on that the whole time.
"He keeps himself in at-bats, and he kept himself in there long enough to get a mistake, and he put a good swing on it."
Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander called it "one of the best at-bats, I've ever seen."
The Cabrera at-bat in the third inning was nearly as impressive. Iwakuma came up and in with a fastball, put the pitch right where he wanted, and Cabrera still rocked the ball over the left-field wall.
Zunino again: "We went back and looked at the replay. We called it in, and it was almost in the white line of the right-hander’s batters’ box. He’s just such a strong guy, and he’s got such a good swing that he’s able to stay inside baseballs that most other people can’t."
Or as Iwakuma noted: "You look at him, and he’s a monster."
The combination, as noted in today's game story, shows the value of two premier hitters in the middle of the lineup.
What set the stage for Martinez's homer wasn't just the intentional walk to Cabrera but also a bobble by third baseman Kyle Seager, two bobbles actually, on a one-out grounder by Torii Hunter with Ian Kinsler at first base after a single.
If Seager handles the ball cleanly, the Mariners have a chance — but only a chance — at an inning-ending double play. It would have required a good throw to second, and a high-quality turn and throw to first by Nick Franklin. Even then, it's no sure thing because Hunter still runs reasonably well.
But Seager's first bobble eliminated any chance of a double play. The second bobble took away a chance for a force at second and left him with only one option — a throw to first. Even that was tight. It required a video review to reverse Mike Estabrook's initial call of safe.
"I was trying to hurry," Seager said. "I was trying to get it to Franklin. I know Hunter runs well, but (I wanted to) at least give him a shot at the double play. I don’t know what happened. I just missed it, and it got out of my glove there."
Even Seager wasn't sure if proper execution results in a double play.
"I don't know, " he said. "It would have been really hard to double up Hunter. He runs pretty well. It would have been a really hard turn for Franklin, but I would have at least liked to give him a try."
Failing to get the double play brought Cabrera to the plate. Failing to get the force at second prompted the intentional walk, which is what got Martinez to the plate.
Today's notebook detailed that second baseman Robinson Cano is battling a sore left hand, which caused him to miss a second straight game. (And, boy, that lineup often struggles even when he's in there.) The injury isn't serious, and it's possible Cano could return to action tonight.
The Mariners also made a series of roster moves prior to the game.
They optioned struggling right-hander Brandon Maurer (1-4 and 7.52 ERA) to Triple-A Tacoma but, interestingly, the move came after he underwent an MRI because he reported some back problems after leaving Thursday's loss to the Angels.
Maurer battled back problems in spring training; those problems effectively killed his chance to open the season in the rotation. But this time, the MRI must have come back clean — because the rules prevent clubs from optioning injured players to the minors (where they make less money).
The rules also played a role in the decision to promote veteran outfielder Endy Chavez to the big leagues. He agreed in January to a minor-league contract, but it contained an "out" clause that permitted him to become a free agent if not in the majors by June 1.
Chavez had indicated he intended to exercise that clause. So here he is.
Those moves, if you're doing the math, leave the Mariners with just four starting pitchers, but manager Lloyd McClendon, not surprisingly, dismissed the suggestion of a four-man rotation by saying: "No. That’s out of the question."
The Mariners are currently at day 12 in a run of 36 games in 37 days.
Instead, it appears right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will be recalled from Tacoma to start Tuesday's game in Atlanta. He will be available on normal rest because, like Maurer, he started Thursday night.
***The Mariners, at 26-28, are one-third of the way through their season. They are on pace to finish 78-84 after going 71-91 in 2013.
***Kyle Seager hit a two-run homer Friday and now leads the Mariners with eight homers and 33 RBIs. All eight homers and all but two of his RBIs have come in his last 32 games. He is batting .305 (36-for-118) in that span.
***Hisashi Iwakuma gave up five runs in his six innings, which hiked his ERA from 2.39 to 3.09. It marked only that fourth time in 69 career games (55 starts) that he has allowed five or more earned runs.
***Iwakuma had a streak of 50 2/3 scoreless innings against American League Central opponents before Miguel Cabrera's homer in the third inning. It was also his first career loss against an AL Central club after winning his seven previous decisions.
Around the farms
***Triple-A Tacoma wasted some late heroics in a 4-3 loss to Salt Lake (Angels) in 11 innings. Our Andy Bixler has the details.
***Double-A Jackson starter Cam Hobson failed to get out of the second inning in an 8-2 loss at Mobile (Diamondbacks). From the Jackson Sun.
***Hi-A High Desert got a two-run homer from Burt Reynolds in a three-run eighth and rallied for a 9-8 victory over Bakersfield (Reds). From the Victorville Daily Press.
***Lo-A Clinton took an early lead on an Austin Wilson RBI single but lost 4-1 at Kane County (Cubs). From the LumberKings' website.