OAKLAND - In baseball, it works like this: When you get the chance to score runs and don't, the other team almost always takes advantage.
It was just that simple Sunday when the Seattle Mariners had the chance to sweep a three-game series from Oakland but couldn’t deliver, losing to the Athletics, 7-1.
“One inning, we had the tying run in scoring position with one out and didn’t get it done,” manager Eric Wedge said. “The next inning, we’re down by four ”
One moment Doug Fister had a 1-0 lead – on a Ryan Langerhans solo home run – and the next, a routine ground ball was booted and routine fly balls were eluding Seattle outfielders.
“There are always quirky little things that happen in baseball,” Fister said. “You’ve got to adjust. I didn’t do the job today, I let the leadoff hitter reach base five of my six innings. You can’t do that and win.”
Oakland did what Seattle had done in the first two games – take advantage of every mistake. There were plenty.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan committed the Mariners’ first error of the season, and a run scored because of it. Milton Bradley lost a fly ball in the sun that became a gift double and set up a run.
And in the seventh inning, with nervous rookie Josh Lueke on the mound, the first ball hit – an easy fly to center field – became a second gift double when Langerhans lost it.
“I should have made the play, that just can’t happen,” Langerhans said. “Milton lost his in the fourth inning, and I knew the sun was going to move and get me in the sixth or seventh inning.
“I tracked that all until maybe the last 20 feet, then completely lost it.”
“I let the guy on second base (Coco Crisp) get in my head and I started rushing the ball,” Lueke said. “I could feel it but couldn’t stop it.”
Trailing 3-1, the Mariners watched Lueke walk the next two men to load the bases with no one out, then strike out cleanup hitter Josh Willingham. Next up, Hideki Matsui.
“I was thinking double play there, but he got a ball in the air and I didn’t really see what happened,” Lueke said.
What happened? That fly ball went to shallow right field, where Ichiro Suzuki was playing deep. Ichiro didn’t get a particularly good jump, hesitated as he neared it, then had it drop in front of him.
At that point, with better luck, Lueke could have been out of the inning.
He wasn’t, and the Athletics made the Mariners pay by scoring three more times – once on a hit batter, another on a bases-loaded walk – and blew the game open.
Trailing by six runs, Wedge used the final inning to get work for those who hadn’t had any. Adam Kennedy and Luis Rodriguez each pinch hit. And rookie right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen pitched his first major league inning.
Someone asked him how he felt on the walk in from the bullpen.
“I don’t honestly know,” he said. “I was trying to control my breathing. I had to fight to control my heartbeat.”
At that, he was better than Lueke, who was so nervous as he warmed up in the bullpen that when Wedge headed out to pull Fister, Lueke ran toward the mound.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, and I almost beat the manager there,” Lueke admitted. “I’m glad to get this one out of the way. I’ll be better.”
He worked a 1-2-3 inning, striking out David DeJesus for the final out and walked to the dugout.
“It wasn’t the way you always think of it, because I always dreamed it would be in a win,” Wilhelmsen said.
The team had given its pitchers a scouting report on all Oakland hitters Friday. Did Wilhelmsen remember anything he’d heard or read?
“Not a thing,” he said sheepishly.
Now two of Seattle’s three true rookie pitchers have pitched, with the third – Michael Pineda – scheduled to start in Texas on Tuesday. And the Mariners? They won the first series they played, and then flew to hitter-friendly Arlington with some bad numbers awaiting them.
In its first three games, against Boston, Texas hammered 11 home runs. In the same span, Seattle hit one.
Home runs aren’t a big part of Seattle’s arsenal.
Wedge kept pushing his team into scoring opportunities Sunday. In the fifth inning, down 2-1, he had Jack Wilson steal second base ahead of an Ichiro walk, getting to Chone Figgins with the chance to tie or go ahead.
Figgins grounded into a double play.
In the seventh, now down 3-1, Wedge followed a Langerhans single and a walk to Ryan with a sacrifice bunt by Wilson that put runners on second and third base with one out. As he had promised, he wanted the top of his lineup to get more RBI chances.
Ichiro tapped back to the mound for the second out. Figgins struck out to end the inning – and Oakland proceeded to score four times.