Fickle game, baseball.
Third baseman Kyle Seager made a spectacular game-saving play for the final out Wednesday when the Mariners held on for a one-run victory.
And then, on his first chance Thursday, Seager failed to handle what appeared to be a routine grounder. That first-inning error led to two Los Angeles runs, which proved pivotal in a 6-4 loss.
"I got it on a tweener," Seager said. "I should have either charged in faster or backed up a little bit.I got it right in the middle. I was right in no-man’s land."
Don’t be fooled. This was a one-run game until the Angels feasted on an-again ineffective Nick Vincent in a three-run eighth inning, which turned Mike Zunino’s two-run homer in the ninth into a footnote.
The Mariners could have bailed out Seager and starter Hisashi Iwakuma with a more-potent attack, but they managed just two runs against Matt Shoemaker in seven innings: homers by Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.
"Shoemaker threw the ball well," manager Scott Servais said. "More fastball than we’re used to seeing out of him. He’s always got a good split."
Even so, it was just 3-2 when Nori Aoki opened the eighth inning with a double on a sharp grounder against reliever Jose Alvarez that got through shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
The Mariners had the meat of their order coming up.
But got nothing.
A pinch-hitter and a pitching change resulted in Franklin Gutierrez hitting a weak fly to center against Jose Valdez, who then struck out Cano and retired Cruz on a grounder to short.
The Mariners finished 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Vincent let the game get away later in the inning by serving up a two-run double to Albert Pujols after issuing an intentional walk to Mike Trout with a runner at second and one out.
Vincent gave up two homers in Tuesday’s loss when he said he couldn’t locate his fastball down and away. He said this was different.
"Pujols (hit) a cutter down and away," Vincent said. "He got the barrel around and hit a double in the gap. Not sure what I can do about that one. But when things are bad, things are bad.
"It’s just one of those things right now. I’m kind of in a funk."
The loss forced the Mariners to settle for a split in their four-game series against the Angels, who entered the week with a 10-game losing streak. The Mariners dropped to three games back in the wild-card chase.
Iwakuma (14-8) provided a silver lining by pitching seven innings, which allowed the Mariners to reset their weary bullpen. He lost for just the fourth time in his last 16 decisions.
"My last start in Oakland," he said, "I only went five (innings). Knowing the bullpen was worn out from (Wednesday’s) game, I wanted to stay in as long as I could. Seven innings at least."
Shoemaker (7-13) gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings before the Angels’ bullpen closed out the victory.
Cano’s two-out homer in the first inning, on a first-pitch fastball, provided Iwakuma with a quick 1-0 lead.
It didn’t last.
The Angels struck back with two runs later in the inning by capitalizing on Seager’s error after putting runners at first and second with one out.
Pujols hit a grounder to third — a potential inning-ending double play — but the ball skipped through Seager for a run-scoring error. Simmons followed with an RBI single.
"Knowing the runner," he said, "I should have backed up and given myself a chance to catch it."
Seager ended Wednesday’s 4-3 victory by making a diving stop and throw to retire Simmons for the game’s final out with the bases loaded.
The Mariners ran themselves into an out after Seth Smith’s leadoff double in the fourth inning. Smith broke for third on Cano’s hopper up the middle, but an overshifted Simmons had an easy play on the ball and threw to third.
Another chance slipped away in the fifth inning after the Mariners put their first two batters on base. Shawn O’Malley struck out before Aoki and Smith grounded out.
Iwakuma had retired 11 in a row before Jett Bandy turned on a first-pitch slider with one out in the fifth inning. Bandy kept the ball just fair down the left-field line for his eighth homer. The Angels led 3-1.
"It was a first-pitch slider that I threw for a strike," Iwakuma said. "It was over the fat part of the plate, and he got to it."
The Mariners got one run back on Cruz’s one-out homer in the sixth inning. He drove a 2-2 change-up 421 feet to left — one pitch after the Angels believed they had him struck out.
The Pitch f/x tracker suggested the Angels had a point. Turned out, it didn’t matter.
PLAY OF THE GAME: The first-inning error by third baseman Kyle Seager set the tone. It gave the Angels a lead they never relinquished.
PLUS: Hisashi Iwakuma allowed only two earned runs in seven innings, which lowered his ERA to 3.78. The last time it was that low was after his first start of the season…Nelson Cruz has 33 career homers against the Angels. Among active players, only Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, with 37, has more.
MINUS: Reliever Nick Vincent’s ERA has jumped from 3.15 to 4.10 after giving up five runs over 1 2/3 innings in his last two appearances…Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz each came up empty in the eighth inning with the tying run at second…Franklin Gutierrez is hitless in his last 10 at-bats.
STAT PACK: Robinson Cano hit his 10th first-pitch homer of the season in providing the Mariners with a brief 1-0 lead in the first inning. His 10 first-pitch homers are tied with Baltimore’s Chris Davis for the most in the majors.
QUOTABLE: The Mariners finished with a 4-3 road trip. The won two of three in Oakland before settling for a split against the Angels.
"You’d like to do better," Seager said, "but when you win the road trip, that’s pretty good. This is a tough league. You go on the road and come out with a positive, I think you can (be happy) with that.
"You always wish you did better."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners fell three games behind Boston and Baltimore in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth…Mike Zunino has reached base safely at least once in 16 straight games…the Mariners hold a 7-6 edge in the season series, which includes three more games at Safeco Field (Sept. 2-4) and three more at Angel Stadium (Sept. 12-14).
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners