BALTIMORE — Given their history against former farmhand Chris Tillman, a constant reminder from a disastrous trade, the Mariners needed Taijuan Walker to be at his emerging-ace best Wednesday against Baltimore.
Walker was something less than that and, consequently, the Mariners failed to build on their easy victory in Tuesday’s series opener at Camden Yards. Walker lasted just five innings in a 5-2 loss to the Orioles.
Tillman (6-1) pitched into the seventh inning before departing with one out and a runner at second. He now 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA in nine career starts against the club that drafted him with the 49th overall pick in 2006.
"He just commands his fastball," said Nelson Cruz, who played with Tillman on the 2014 Orioles. "That’s his main pitch. His ball kind of rises, so it’s tough to lay of those pitches."
If you’ve somehow forgotten, Tillman was part of the Feb. 8, 2008 trade that brought him to Baltimore with outfielder Adam Jones, reliever George Sherrill and two other minor-league pitchers for lefty Erik Bedard.
Only I-5 traffic and not giving the ball to Marshawn causes greater teeth-gnashing in the Pacific Northwest.
Brad Brach replaced Tillman and got the final two outs in the seventh before the Mariners, trailing by two runs, stirred in the eighth inning after Robinson Cano’s one-out double.
A walk to Cruz, and Kyle Seager’s single loaded the bases and prompted the Orioles to summon their closer, lefty Zach Britton. That prompted a counter-move to Dae-Ho Lee to bat for Adam Lind.
Lee struck out, and the Mariners left the bases loaded when Chris Iannetta grounded out to second. After Baltimore added an insurance run against Joel Peralta, Britton closed out the victory for his 11th save.
"Their closer is one of the best in the league," manager Scott Servais said. "We had some guys out there tonight. We just couldn’t get them across."
Despite the loss, the Mariners (22-17) remained one game ahead of second-place Texas in the American League West Division.
Cruz’s point about Tillman relying on his fastball is telling because Walker (2-3) admitted his biggest problem was that he didn’t do likewise while often laboring through his five innings.
"I wasn’t throwing (the fastball) a lot," he said. "I just used too much off-speed instead of letting my fastball get a chance to get the velo up."
Walker retired the side in order only once, gave up successive homers in the second to Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters. And after the Mariners clawed even, Walker gave up single runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
"It wasn’t quite the same crispness to his stuff," Servais said, "that we saw last time out."
The homers by Trumbo and Wieters were no-doubters. First it was Trumbo, a more recent former Mariner, who teed off on an 0-1 curve for a 412-foot bomb to left.
"I threw a hanging curveball," Walker said, "and Trumbo is a power hitter. He doesn’t miss mistakes. That’s what it was, a mistake pitch."
Wieters followed with a 366-foot drive to right on a fastball.
"I was behind in the count," Walker said, "and the ball kind of cut on me right into his barrel. Another mistake pitch."
The Mariners got one run back when Leonys Martin opened the third with a 388-foot drive to right for his sixth homer. Cruz’s leadoff double into the fourth led to the tying run on Iannetta’s sacrifice fly.
But Trumbo and Wieters beat Walker again later in the fourth. Trumbo lined a one-out single up the middle and came all the way around on Wieters’ double off the center-field wall just beyond Martin’s reach.
"I didn’t find the wall with my hand," Martin said. "That’s why I missed the ball."
Much of Walker’s trouble in the fifth inning was self-inflicted. He issued a leadoff walk to Hyun Soo Kim after being ahead 1-2 in the count, and then bungled Joey Rickard’s attempted sacrifice.
Rickard bunted the ball too hard and right back to Walker, who had a chance for a double play — until he threw the ball into center field. Both runners were safe.
"I just rushed it," Walker said. "I didn’t realize I had that much time. I just tried to be too quick with it. I just threw it away."
The runners moved up on Manny Machado’s squibber in front of the plate but had to hold on Adam Jones’ grounder to short with the infield playing in. A walk to Chris Davis loaded the bases for Trumbo.
Walker then fired a wild pitch that sailed high past the plate. Kim and other runners moved to second and third before Trumbo grounded out. So just one run. Baltimore led 4-2. It could have been a lot worse.
It was still enough.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Center fielder Leonys Martin ran down Adam Jones’ deep one-out fly in the first inning. Martin made a leaping catch at the wall in left-center field.
Close second: Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones retreated to catch Robinson Cano’s leadoff drive at the wall in the sixth inning. The difference: Martin had a longer run.
PLUS: Kyle Seager reached base four times with three walks and a single…lefty reliever Mike Montgomery worked two more scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 2.08…Ketel Marte won an 11-pitch battle against Orioles closer Zach Britton by pulling a leadoff double past third base in the ninth inning.
MINUS: First baseman Adam Lind was hitless in three at-bats. His average is down to .223…reliever Joel Peralta allowed one run in his only inning. That makes five runs in two innings over his last three outings…Nori Aoki was hitless in five at-bats and is 2-for-18 in his last four games.
STAT PACK: The Mariners were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They ended five innings with runners in scoring position.
QUOTABLE: Ketel Marte’s double on the 11th pitch in the ninth inning against Orioles closer Zach Britton drew praise from teammate Leonys Martin.
"That’s the best at-bat I’ve ever seen against this guy," Martin said. "You see that sink, right in the middle. That was ridiculous."
SHORT HOPS: Taijuan Walker is 0-3 with a 5.09 ERA in his last four starts…Leonys Martin, in his 37th game, hit his sixth home run, which surpassed his 2015 total of five in 95 games at Texas. His career high is eight in 2013…Robinson Cano has reached base at least once in 17 straight games…Nelson Cruz has reached base at least once in 23 straight games at Camden Yards.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners