BALTIMORE — The Mariners escaped their private hell that was Fenway Park only to find no relief in the launching pad that has always been Camden Yards.
On a night when Seattle hitters banged out 12 hits, including four homers and two doubles, it wasn’t nearly enough to stay with the offensive barrage surrendered by their pitching staff in an 11-8 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Mariners on what has turned into a nightmare East Coast trip. And with each of those losses the premise of reaching .500 slips from dream to a fantasy.
Acting manager Robby Thompson called a quick meeting before batting practice to remind his players to put the debacle of a three-game sweep in Boston behind them.
“We wanted to make sure that we forget about it, yet learn from any mistakes and move forward,” he said. “But with that being said, this is a game to be played by men. It’s a man’s game and it’s a tough game to play through 162 games and go through all the ups and downs.”
It’s mostly downs right now.
Even a reassured psyche can’t overcome the fact that the Mariners are playing a playoff level team in the Orioles (61-49) with their three least effective starters – Aaron Harang, Erasmo Ramirez and Joe Saunders – going in the series. It’s very likely that Seattle could go winless on this trip after losing the starts by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in Boston in frustrating fashion.
Harang, who has had his best outings against National League teams and weaker American League squads, was out of sorts from the start. A stiff upper back made it difficult for him to get loose.
He gave up a lead-off single to Nate McLouth and then walked Manny Machado and Nick Markakis to load the bases with no outs.
“When your upper back is tight it’s hard to get extension, hard to feel like you have control,” Harang said.
Harang found the strike zone against one-time Mariner Adam Jones, who found the left field corner with a laser line drive that unloaded the bases. McLouth and Machado scored with ease and Raul Ibanez bobbled the ball in left field allowing Markakis to score on the error. Jones would score later on a sacrifice fly from Matt Wieters to make it 4-0. Not an ideal start for a team trying to move forward.
“That first inning killed us,” Harang said. “The two walks killed us.”
At best, it wounded them.
“Unfortunately we were playing catch-up all game long,” Thompson said.
Every time Seattle started to get close, the Orioles pulled away.
Michael Saunders cut the 4-0 lead in half in the third inning, with an opposite field two-run homer to left. Kendrys Morales made it 4-3 with an RBI single that scored Brad Miller.
But Chris Davis answered in the loudest way possible in the bottom of the inning. The big lefty destroyed a Harang fastball, hitting it out over the area in right field and on to Eutaw Street behind it. It was his major league leading 40th homer of the season.
Harang said he was finally able to loosen up after receiving an adjustment from Mariners trainers after the third. But Baltimore continued to hit. Ryan Flaherty scraped a solo homer over the right field wall in the fourth inning to push it to 6-3.
Humberto Quintero’s first homer as a Mariner – a solo shot to center – in the fifth inning provided a momentary respite from the Orioles onslaught and cut the lead to two. Things started to get interesting against starting pitcher and former Mariners prospect Chris Tillman (14-3). Even after Baltimore got an RBI single from Jones in the fifth inning to push it to 7-4, the Mariners immediately answered in the sixth.
Michael Morse dropped an RBI double into right. Justin Smoak singled to move Morse to third and knock Tillman from the game. Michael Saunders came up with a sacrifice fly off of lefty reliever Troy Patton to cut the lead down to 7-6.
Suddenly the Mariners had some life. With Harang at 91 pitches and still largely ineffective, Thompson went to recently recalled Brandon Maurer to give them a few innings of relief.
The relief was not immediate.
Maurer, who started the season in the rotation and was sent down after struggling, reminded the Mariners why they were forced to option him to Tacoma.
He gave up three straight singles to load the bases with no outs. But they didn’t stay loaded for long. McLouth jumped all over a 2-1 fastball and crushed it center field for the first grand slam of his career.
“If you look back, a lot of those pitches were over the heart of the plate,” Thompson said. “If you do that against this club, you are going to run into some problems.”
Three of the four hits, including McLouth’s bomb, came from left-handed hitters. Maurer’s failures against lefties were one of the reasons he struggled at the big league level.
“It was tough,” he said. “The ball was going up and away instead of down and away.”
The slam made it 11-6.
The Mariners tried to make it interesting. Morales and Morse each blasted solo homers in the eighth inning to trim the lead to 11-8. But the damage was done.
Morales went 4-for-4 with a double, a homer and two RBI. He now has eight hits in his last eight at-bats and is 13-for-17 (.765) on the road trip.
“Between him and Kyle Seager, forget about it,” Thompson said. “Those guys are on fire. He and Kyle are locked on.”
Morse’s double and homer were also good signs as he comes back from missing over a month on the disabled list.
“I put a couple good swings on the ball,” Morse said. “Every game I’ve played in since I’ve been back, I felt good. My timing was a little off. It’s something I won’t press on. It was just a matter of time.”