The first 17 outs Felix Hernandez recorded weren’t easy Monday, but the 18th – that one took an eternity.
In fact, he’s still looking for it.
Thrown into another of those “you’re-the-ace, fix-this” games, Hernandez was asked to snap a three-game losing streak and, for the lack of a third out in the sixth inning, could not.
Instead, Toronto batters used a walk and five two-out singles to rally past Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners, 11-4.
If the Mariners have played four worse games all season, they could not remember them. Against Cleveland and Toronto – two teams below .500 – Seattle has allowed 13 home runs in four games and hit none.
While the Mariners were blown out in all four losses, this time they piled up 11 hits, all of them singles, and had a 4-3 lead after five innings with their All-Star pitcher on the mound looking for his 12th win.
As with that 18th out, Felix is still looking.
“Even when he got in a little trouble that inning, you had a great feeling he was going to get out of it,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Then a couple of ground balls got through, we’re down three runs and playing catch up again.”
When they rallied for two runs in the fifth inning, giving Hernandez a one-run lead with four innings to go, the Mariners liked their chances. Two outs later, they felt just as strongly.
But with two outs and no one on base in the sixth inning, Hernandez watched his game collapse in a flurry of well-placed, if not well-struck, base hits. There was a bloop and a seeing-eye roller, an infield single and a bad-hop single off the glove and body of third base man Jack Hannahan.
Through it all, the Blue Jays just kept running the bases – and scored four times.
“Four days do not make a season,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ve been through good streaks and losing streaks, and we’ll find a way to stop this one and get going again. We’re a team whose strength is pitching and defense, and we’ve given up so many runs these last four games that we’ve been out of it early.”
For four games, it’s been a little of everything that’s beaten Seattle – and that was the case again Monday.
On offense, the Mariners took small ball to its wildest extreme, putting runners on base all night but consistently lacking the hit – specifically, an extra-base hit – to break the game open when the opportunities were there.
And defensively, this was one of the few times all season the team simply didn’t seem focused.
Franklin Gutierrez went to the wall in center field to catch Adam Lind’s long fly ball in the seventh inning, waited for it and then dropped it for a three-base error that led to a run.
And in the eighth inning, normally reliable catcher Rob Johnson – who had two hits and drew a walk – had a pitch go past his glove, through his legs and to the backstop in what became a three-run rally for Toronto.
Clearly, the Mariners will emerge from this stretch at some point – they haven’t gone 51-48 using magical powers this season. Just as obviously, they’ve hit some kind of late July slump that’s left them looking hapless over the last four games.
Do these losses show some weakness Seattle didn’t know it had?
Of course not.
The front office has known this offense was going to have to scratch out runs since spring training, but it’s pitching was so good it won despite being out-scored, 429-384 this year.
Over the last four games, starters Ryan Rowland-Smith, Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas and Hernandez have each lost, and Seattle has been out-scored, 42-10.
Helping magnify the importance of those four July defeats, the front-running Angels have won twice – pushing the Mariners from 51/2 games out on Friday to 71/2 games back this morning.
With three days remaining before the trading deadline, the hardest truth is this: There is no one or two trades the Mariners can make that would resolve all their issues. There may not be more than one player – tonight’s starter, Jarrod Washburn – who would bring them a return worth discussing.
Give up Washburn for a bat? That’s weakening one part of the team to strengthen another, at least in the short term, and it’s doubtful that would help Seattle close the gap in the West.
“We’ve got to tighten up our game, get back to executing out there, and we’ll be fine,” Wakamatsu said. “Tonight in the sixth inning, the wheels came off. We’ll get them back on.”