TORONTO – One out into the third inning, Kevin Millwood gave up a pair of ground ball singles to bring up Jose Bautista, then threw exactly the pitch he wanted.
Bautista turned on the inside fastball that was down and, rather than hit it into the stands, hit it on the ground.
“I got him to do just what I wanted him to,” Millwood said. “He just hit it a lot harder than I wanted …”
Bautista’s ground ball rocketed off third baseman Kyle Seager for a tough error that in essence gave Toronto a three-run inning, which led to an eventual 7-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
No, the Mariners on offense couldn’t solve ex-Mariners pitcher Brandon Morrow or three Blue Jays relievers. And no, Hisashi Iwakuma’s second big-league appearance wasn’t what he’d hoped – one inning, four runs allowed on an eighth-inning grand slam.
Still, the key to the game was likely Seager’s error, which allowed the first run of the game.
“If I make that play, the inning is over,” Seager said. “I felt like I should have made that play. It was hit right at me.”
The issue wasn’t direction but velocity.
One of the better power hitters in the American League, Bautista got all of that Millwood fastball – he just happened to hit it on the ground.
“That’s a tough, tough play for any third baseman,” manager Eric Wedge said.
“I can’t fault anyone for not making that play,” Millwood said. “It happens. That inning kind of got away, but I got through seven innings and shut them down after that.
“I’m not satisfied, but it was better than my last two starts.”
While the game didn’t officially get away until Iwakuma worked the eighth, allowing two hits, a walk and then Edwin Encarnacion’s sixth home run – and first grand slam – the Mariners probably lost it in the first six innings.
Those were against Morrow, the right-hander Seattle traded for Brandon League after the 2009 season. He has pitched well for the Blue Jays, but never better than when facing the Mariners.
Coming in, Morrow was 2-0 with a 2.77 earned run average in two starts against his former team, and this time he worked six shutout innings, did not walk a batter and struck out a season-high nine.
It was the 44th time in Morrow’s career he’d pitched at least six innings, and the first time he did so without issuing a walk.
“He’s got a good fastball and today he kept it down on us,” Brendan Ryan said. “That made his slider a lot more effective. And his slider is like 89-90 mph – that’s one of the harder sliders you’ll see.
“I got a couple of pitches but fouled them off, and then he came in with that slider …”
Seattle managed five hits in the first six innings, got Seager as far as second base in the second inning and Michael Saunders to third base in the fifth inning.
Morrow got a fly ball from Jesus Montero, then struck out Saunders and Miguel Olivo in the second inning. In the fifth, he struck out Ryan, then got Chone Figgins on a routine ground ball.
“He threw quite a few different pitches today than I’d seen the first time we faced him,” said Seager, who had two hits. “He threw a curve, a split-finger, his fastball and slider. He’s a tough guy to face.”
After the drama of Friday’s game, when the Mariners scored eight times after the sixth inning, the loss that snapped their four-game winning streak was relatively stress-free.
“We never got much going,” Wedge said. “Morrow was real good. He’s got that great arm and he was on.”
Six hits in nine innings was all Seattle mustered, with Seager and Ichiro Suzuki each getting two, Saunders and Olivo one each.
One game after the Mariners used everyone but Iwakuma in their bullpen, Millwood did a save job in letting Seattle rest those arms.
“I always try to go deep into games, that’s my job, but today I knew a lot of guys needed a breather,” Millwood said.
Twenty-two games into the 2012 season, the Mariners are 11-11. A year ago, they were 8-14.
Still, this was the fourth time they’ve been shut out, and their offense remains in need of repair. Cleanup hitter Justin Smoak, for instance, is batting .187. Olivo is at .178, Ryan at .143 and leadoff man Figgins is at .224. There are no .300 hitters in the lineup. No one hitting higher than Ichiro’s .firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners Twitter: @LarryLaRue