They had ruined 2010 for themselves, so the Seattle Mariners knew how to spoil a season - which they nearly did for the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.
Needing a lot of things to go right to win the American League wild card, Boston saw most of them go wrong in the span of a few hours, when the New York Yankees won their game and the Mariners took a 5-4 lead into the eighth inning.
Then Seattle fell back on what it has done most consistently all season. The Mariners blew a lead in front of 18,381 fans at Safeco Field and lost, 9-6.
For the Red Sox, the win kept those wild-card hopes alive – they are 61/2 games back but have six left to play with the Yankees.
The Mariners? They have a six-game losing streak working and seem a lock to lose 100. Seattle has lost 90 games, with 17 to play.
The Mariners had snapped a 4-4 tie in the seventh inning, when Franklin Gutierrez doubled and Ichiro Suzuki scored for the third time.
Interim manager Daren Brown made the logical move in the age of specialization. He pulled starter Luke French, who had pitched well but thrown 99 pitches, and inserted set-up man Brandon League.
Managerially, it was flawless logic. League’s earned-run average at Safeco Field is 1.93 in 32 games. But Brown is the second Seattle manager this season to learn that good managing can’t always ward off bad results.
“I’m feeling pretty good with a one run lead in the eighth with League and (David) Aardsma,” Brown said. “It wasn’t League’s night. If we had the same situation (today), I’d feel comfortable with them again in the same situation.”
League set down the first two Red Sox he faced, then gave up back-to-back singles to Victor Martinez and ex-Mariner Adrian Beltre. Needing one out to get a lead to closer Aardsma, League threw a pitch down and in to David Ortiz.
Ortiz hammered it, turning it into his 30th home run of the season and a two-run Boston lead.
League returned to the mound in the ninth and promptly allowed two more runs.
The Mariners made a statement with this game, a proclamation that – no matter what you may have read, heard or believed – they can score more than three runs in their home park.
Not often, mind you.
When Ichiro crossed home plate with Seattle’s fourth run on Russell Branyan’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly, it was the first time the Mariners had scored as many as four runs during a home game since Aug. 6.
That was 16 games ago. During that stretch, the Mariners scored three runs or less – and often, it was less – every time out.
What was most remarkable about this loss was that it seemed impossible for the Mariners not to have scored more runs. Not only did Seattle out-hit Boston, 12-10, but Brown didn’t wait for hits to push the Mariners’ offense.
“For me, take what they give you. Our guys had the opportunity to steal bags. If you’ve got the right people on base, I like putting pressure on the other team. They’ve got the green light,” Brown said.
Given that green light, the Mariners ran whenever they had the chance: Ichiro stole his 38th and 39th bases of the season, Chone Figgins his 39th, Franklin Gutierrez his 21st, Michael Saunders his fifth.
Those stolen bases set up the first two Mariners runs, and three of their six.
Running, however, also cost them at least one run and possibly a big inning.
That was in the fifth, when Ichiro led off with his second of three hits – he now has 189 – and Figgins laid down a perfect bunt single to move Ichiro to third base. Branyan’s fly ball tied the game.
Figgins, who had been caught trying to steal third base with no one out in the third inning, then tried to steal second base and was caught again. Did it hurt? No sooner had Figgins been thrown out than Gutierrez doubled off the wall in center field.
“Even with Figgins getting thrown out at third base with one out, he was trying to put himself in better position to score,” Brown said. “I’m OK with that.”
It is the risk that’s run when a manager lets his fastest players run.
And Figgins is serious about running. Along with those 39 stolen bases, Figgins has been caught stealing 14 times this season.
In the end, Ichiro scored four times, the most by any Mariner this season. One of those runs put Seattle in position to beat Boston. Instead, the Mariners gave up five runs in the final two innings, and lost again.