Thursday, September 20, 2012
SEATTLE — A reeling group of Mariners finally saw the Felix Hernandez who had so dominated the mound in August.
Unfortunately, they also saw their own hitters again deliver the paltry run support on Wednesday night that Hernandez spent so much of last month fighting to overcome. And that lack of offense prompted Michael Saunders into a daring basepath attempt on the final pitch of this 3-1 loss in 11 innings.
Saunders was thrown out trying to steal second with two on, two out and pinch-hitter John Jaso at the plate. That play sealed a franchise-record 15th consecutive extra-inning win by the Orioles and gave them their first three-game sweep in Seattle since 1997.
“I didn’t want to make the last out there,” Saunders said. “However, I thought it was an opportunity and a chance I was willing to take.”
It started with the fact the Mariners had scored just one run in their previous 24 innings against the Orioles, who had beaten them 4-2 in an 18-inning marathon on Tuesday night. Seattle was blanked the final 14 innings of that game, then managed just a Franklin Gutierrez solo homer in the fourth off Orioles starter Joe Saunders the first 10 innings of this contest.
Adam Jones had stunned the crowd of 14,001 at Safeco Field by snapping a 1-1 stalemate in the 11th with a two-run homer to left field off Mariners relief pitcher Josh Kinney. The first two Mariners reached on singles in the bottom of the 11th off standout Orioles closer Jim Johnson, but then a nifty 3-6-1 double play on a Justin Smoak grounder had Seattle down to its final out.
So, when Saunders drew a walk to put runners at the corners, he didn’t want to chance leaving it to Jaso to hit a three-run homer.
“Johnson has been solid this year and with Jaso at the plate, all we’d need is a single at that point and we tie the ballgame,” Saunders said. “If I don’t get to second base, it’s going to take two hits, and that’s tough off a guy like him.”
The Mariners had squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the 10th when Gutierrez popped out. Earlier in the inning, after a leadoff walk drawn by Saunders, Miguel Olivo became the third Seattle player in two days to pop out on a bunt attempt.
After the Orioles went up 1-0 on a Mark Reynolds single in the fourth, the Mariners had hits in every inning except the seventh. But other than the Gutierrez homer, they came up empty.
“That’s not the ballgame,” Wedge said of the Saunders steal attempt. “The ballgame is the offensive side of it. There were opportunities for people up there that need to be doing better. And that’s the end of it.”
Hernandez knows all about that.
When he was racking up wins in his AL Pitcher of the Month stretch in August, he had to notch three of those by a 1-0 score. After three straight defeats this month — including the last two when he allowed 12 earned runs over just 8-2/3 combined innings — he looked like the Hernandez of old in this one.
Hernandez didn’t allow a run after the fourth and got out of his only other jam with two on in the sixth by making Reynolds one of his eight strikeout victims. He was finally pulled after eight innings with his pitch count at 103, having lowered his earned-run average from 2.92 to 2.85 as he tries to keep pace in the Cy Young Award race.
“I just wanted to be out there as long as I could because our bullpen has been used a lot,” he said. “I wasn’t opening too early. I was just following through straight to home plate, and that’s key for me. It’s something I have to do the last two starts that I’ll have.”
Hernandez did his part. But the bats, as was the case through so many innings these final two nights, just could not rise to the same level.