Of the 3,101 games the Mariners have lost since they entered the American League in 1977, Thursday’s goes down as among the most galling and improbable. Leading 7-2 in the ninth inning, seemingly cruising behind another Felix Hernandez gem and a Henry Blanco grand slam, the Mariners, specifically their bullpen, utterly caved in what became an 8-7 walk-off Red Sox win.
Daniel Cava, the 10th Boston hitter in the ninth, ended it when he poked a bases-loaded shot over the head of Michael Saunders’ head in center, igniting an uproarious celebration by the American League East leaders, who seemed to have had all the gas sucked out of them by Hernandez and Blanco but wound up with a broom job in what is likely to go down as Seattle’s signature loss of the season.
Hernandez, with seven superlative innings, backed by Blanco’s salami in the fifth, had the Mariners in control entering the eighth. A gag job for the Mariner ages began innocently enough when Charlie Furbush came on in relief of Hernandez and gave up a solo home run to Shane Victorino, but that was all the damage in the inning.
In the ninth, the first of three architects of Seattle’s demise, Tom Wilhelmsen, replaced Furbush. One of the most untrustworthy of closers, Wilhelmsen couldn’t find home plate, allowing four runs without recording an out. Oliver Perez came on and yielded two more runs while registering one out. Yoervis Medina replaced Perez and allowed two hits and a walk without getting an out, Nava’s long single doing him in and dooming the Mariners.
Making the grievous more mortifying, interim manager Robby Thompson apparently mis-signaled his choice of relievers. He wanted to replace Wilhelmsen with righthander Medina, but first sent a straight-arm wave with his left hand. Then he touched his right arm, the standard signal. But the ump took the first signal as summoning lefty Perez, and denied Thompson’s appeal.
The shorter story: Hernandez held the Red Sox to an 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox went 5-for-6 against Wilhelmsen, Perez and Medina with RISP.
The three-game sweep made for Seattle’s ninth straight loss at Fenway Park, its eighth walk-off loss of the season and second in two nights — actually on the same calendar day because the Mariners fell in 15 innings to the Red Sox after Wednesday turned to Thursday.
That outcome did not seem possible through seven innings. The Mariners (50-58) manufactured a 3-1 lead, then loaded the bases in the fifth. Blanco, who also blasted a grand slam June 15 at Oakland shortly after he signed with the Mariners, knocked an 0-and-1 fastball from Ryan Dempster on an arcing shot over the wall in left, feet inside the foul pole.
The Red Sox put up little resistance after that as Hernandez cruised toward his 12th victory while lowering his ERA to an American League-best 2.30. He departed after 7.0 innings, having allowed one earned run on six hits with eight strikeouts and two walks.
Blanco wasn’t Hernandez’s only support. Kendrys Morales had one of his better games, going 4-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI, and Kyle Seager, who hit .396 in July, got off to a nice August start, going 2-for-4 with a triple, a walk, two runs scored and an RBI. He pushed his season batting average to .300.
After Brad Miller opened the game with a triple off Dempster, Seager brought him home with a bunt single, giving the Mariners a 1-0 lead. Justin Smoak’s RBI single in the third scored Seager, who had walked. David Ortiz’s sacrifice fly in the third scored Jacoby Ellsbury, who had doubled, trimming Seattle’s lead to 2-1.
After Seager tripled to right in the fifth, Morales’ single gave Seattle a 3-1 lead. The Mariners had yet another scoring opportunity when they loaded the bases with two outs — Smoak doubled, Dustin Ackley walked — and converted in a big way when Blanco blasted his grand slam, giving Hernandez and the Mariners a 7-1 lead.
Furbush replaced Hernandez in the eighth and gave up the home run to Victorino, just the beginning of Boston’s onslaught.
The Mariners begin a three-game set at Camden Yards in Baltimore Friday. RHP Aaron Harang (5-9, 4.89) will go for Seattle opposite RHP Chris Tillman (13-3, 3.62). Harang has allowed two earned runs in 12 innings since the All-Star break while Tillman pitched seven scoreleess innings in his last outing.
Following the series, the Mariners will return to Safeco Field Monday night for a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays.
NOTES: The Mariners have hit six grand slams: Dustin Ackley (April 4 at Toronto), Raul Ibanez (May 15 at New York), Kyle Seager (June 5 vs. Chicago White Sox), Henry Blanco (June 15 at Oakland), Nick Franklin (July 21 at Houston), Blanco (Aug. 1 at Boston) . . . Mariners have lost 17 games this season in their opponents’ final at-bat, including eight walk-off losses . . . Mariners have not only played 16 extra-inning games, they have played five that have lasted longer than 12 innings. No other AL team has played more than three games of 12 or more innings . . . Jesus Montero is batting .236 for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers.
Hmmm. Now that the M’s are getting their hats handed to them by a legit team, there might be some second guessing going on about standing pat and not trading a few players.
Not sure about the hat-handing. M’s were a single away from winning Weds and a single out from winning Thursday, which would have given them the series. The guys they have won or tied six of the seven series up to the All-Star break.
The M’s continue to be a decent AAA-1/2 team. They do OK against average MLB teams but falter when playing top echelon teams that are in playoff races.
A team that can’t be in the hunt for trophies while also yo-yoing between good and bad simply becomes tedious background noise.
Is it management? Ownership? The players? The weather? Seattle’s distance to the rest of the baseball world? It’s probably all of those things and a few other things too, including PEDs or the lack of them.
I can’t get excited or provincial about the Mariners, especially with their Groundhog Day (the movie) inclinations.
Great effort by Felix, Seager, Morales, Smoak and Blanco tonight. Bullpen blew the game. The M’s need to find a new closer next year, don’t you think?
Fairly safe assumption, Baby. Could be Capps or Pryor, depending on development of more pitches. But closers aren’t that hard to find. Until you need one.
Here is a question, as academic and moot as it might be: The scene takes place in the bottom of the ninth last night. Wilhelmsen has totally melted down and Robby Thompson comes out to relieve him. As it happened, Thompson wanted the right-hander Medina, but “raised his left arm first before tapping his right one.” In the actual game, Perez the left-hander had to come in and the carnage continued.
But what if Thompson had held his ground at the mound with the umpire, insisting that Medina is his reliever? Medina hustles in from the bullpen and has a few words with Thompson. The umpire is adamant that Thompson signalled for the left-hander and a left-hander has to take the mound. While they’re jawing at each other, Medina takes his warm-ups and says he’s ready. Thompson looks at the ump one last time: “That’s my left-hander… my very unorthodox left-hander,” he says before walking off the field.
Medina is on the mound. Blanco squats behind the plate. The umpire, shrugging and anticipating that he’s going to declare an infraction as soon as a pitch is thrown, gets behind Blanco. The bases are loaded; the runners aren’t going anywhere. Medina removes his glove, reverses his stance, and throws a left-handed pitch to Blanco, who has moved over to take it as a ball, much like an intentional walk. As girlish as the toss might appear, (my apologies to half the world’s population) it’s a left-handed pitch. The umpire calls “Ball one.” Medina says to anyone listening, “Eh, I’m not feeling it,” and puts his glove back on and pitches the rest of the way right-handed.
Question: Why the heck not?
Here’s another thought: Perez comes in and throws one wide pitch to the the batter for ball one. At that point, Thompson goes back out and taps his right arm as originally intended to replace Perez with Medina and the count at 1-0. Or is that somehow illegal? I can’t find it in the MLB rules, which are at least as indecipherable as the tax code.
Bottom line is that Medina didn’t set the world on fire after he got in and this loss is on all three relievers getting a collective case of the yips. All you can do is try to somehow put it behind you and get ready for another series against a hot team in a hitter’s ballpark. Heaven help us.
Ok, this may be off base here, but I am going to say it anyway. Felix had thrown 107 pitches through 7 innings. The bullpen was already taxed from the 15 inning game the night before. So, why not stretch him out to 8 innings, possibly 120 or a few more pitches.
I think some of this is over managing, and being too concious of the damn pitch counts!
Good point, but was the decision based on getting burned last Friday? To recap, Felix had pitched three-hit shutout ball through eight innings. We’re up 1-0 and Felix goes out for the ninth and gives up one run, sending it to extra frames where we lose 3-2 in the 13th. (I don’t know how many pitches Felix threw through eight innings, but he finished nine with 103.)
I didn’t feel good about Wilhelmsen going in a non-save situation. I knew he needed the work but sometimes closers just need that closing situation to be able to reach what they’re capapble of. Seems as though the bullpen needs some TLC in the off season which doesn’t surprise me. They were pretty much ignored last offseason so the inconsistency of this year isn’t really surprising. Don’t think the M’s really need to invest much in Wilhelmsen though. They’ve had him, JJ Putz, Bandon League and David Aardsma in recent years. Closers are a dime a dozen.
The revolving door at catcher probably isn’t helping either.