BOSTON - On a day when the Seattle Mariners could complete an unlikely six-game road sweep with reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez on the mound, an unlikely event happened to prevent it.
Ten-time Gold Glove outfielder Ichiro Suzuki lost a fly ball in the sun in the ninth inning that allowed the Boston Red Sox to pull out a 3-2 win on an otherwise perfect spring Sunday at Fenway Park.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth and the game tied at 2, Red Sox third baseman Jed Lowrie lifted a fly to right field against Mariners reliever Jamey Wright.
Ichiro immediately looked to be battling the sun, trying to move his body at an angle where it wasn’t a problem. He seemed to be in line to catch the ball, but it went past his glove and hit him in the hip and bounced toward the right-field line about 20 feet away. It allowed Lowrie to advance all the way to third for a triple.
“Right when it hit the sky, I couldn’t see the ball at all,” Ichiro said through his interpreter, Antony Suzuki. “It just disappeared. I didn’t see the ball at all. It just hit me. I was hoping the ball was going to fall into my glove.”
Ichiro had hoped that even though he didn’t see it that he could somehow pull out a catch at the last instant.
“It’s a hard play because you have to make the right decision,” he said. “The moment that ball hit the sky I couldn’t pick up anything, it just disappeared. It’s close to impossible to catch that ball. The decisions were, look to the sideways so the ball could get deeper into myself and maybe hit me, or run back and let it fall down for a single. But my instincts, late in the ballgame and (a) tight ballgame, you want to make that effort. You don’t want to let that ball fall in and make it look like you aren’t trying.”
Wright was surprised Ichiro made any sort of play at all.
“I could tell he didn’t see it,” Wright said. “He actually came a lot closer than I thought he would. I thought it was going to sail right by him.”
Still it looked as if the Mariners might survive the misfortune and get out of the inning.
Wright coaxed a soft ground ball from Marco Scutaro that was fielded by Chone Figgins, who looked Lowrie back and fired to first for the second out.
That brought up the struggling Carl Crawford, who came into the game hitting .155 but had singled in his previous at-bat.
Crawford, who signed a $142 million contract in the offseason and was taking plenty of heat from the media and fans, came through with a ground ball single up the middle to score Lowrie with the winning run.
“I had a chance to get out of it with the ground ball, but I threw a cutter to Crawford that got a little too much of the plate,” Wright said. “I was trying to get a shoe or glove or something on it, but he hit it too hard.”
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise brilliant trip. The Mariners swept a three-game series against the Tigers, and still won their series with the Red Sox to finish 5-1.
“We see the right direction,” Ichiro said. “We see our form in trying to win ballgames. That’s why it’s tough to lose a ballgame like this. It’s a tough play.”
That the Mariners were even in the game was indicative of the good fortune they had found on this trip.
For 52/3 innings, they were stymied by Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield. The veteran knuckleball pitcher, who was called on to start when Clay Buchholz had stomach issues, was almost unhittable. He limited the Mariners to three hits.
“Wakefield was real good today,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It seemed like he had a ton of first-pitch strikes. He was working ahead all day and had it dancing a little bit. He knows how to pitch out there and did a great job against us today.”
But having not made a start all season, Wakefield was on a limited pitch count. So when Ryan Langerhans singled with two outs in the sixth, that prompted Red Sox manager Terry Francona to go to his bullpen.
Up 2-0, Francona brought in Bobby Jenks – much to the delight of the Mariners. It was Jenks who coughed up a lead in a Seattle victory Friday night. He did the same thing Sunday in a different fashion.
Jenks came in and promptly gave up a single to Miguel Olivo. He then got up 1-2 on Justin Smoak before walking him to load the bases.
That brought up ultra-patient designated hitter Jack Cust, who leads the team in walks. Cust never swung at a pitch, and Jenks walked him on five pitches to force in a run. It was the fifth bases-loaded walk Cust has drawn this season – second most in a Mariners season, behind John Olerud’s six in 2000.
Shortstop Luis Rodriguez stepped to the plate with the same approach. He wasn’t going to swing until he had to. It never got to that point. Jenks sandwiched two called strikes between four more balls to walk in the second run to make it 2-2.
Mariners hitters took 19 straight pitches against Jenks before Michael Saunders swung at a pitch. Saunders later lined out to end the inning. But the sold-out crowd of 37,079 booed Jenks mercilessly as he walked off the field.
Wedge demands his players to learn during games and throughout the season. Their patience against the struggling Jenks was a sign of that.
“You have to recognize situations and what’s happening,” Wedge said. “Our guys did a great job taking what he was giving us right there and were able to tie the ballgame. They were tough at-bats, tough walks there. You work to put yourself in position to hit, but also recognize what is going on in the baseball game and I think our guys are doing a good job of that. He had some command problems and we took advantage of it.”
With the two sixth-inning runs, it looked as though Hernandez might be able to salvage a win. He worked a scoreless sixth and seventh, but the Mariners couldn’t put together any runs against relievers Matt Albers and Jonathan Papelbon.
“I’m looking at nothing but positives,” Wright said. “We had a great road trip. I think we learned a little bit about ourselves and didn’t give up in this game. We fought till the very end. Hopefully that will translate into more wins in the future. I’m super proud of our team and what we’ve done in the last couple weeks. We’ve played really great baseball, so hopefully we can keep it up.”
After another tough-luck outing (see story, Page B3) Felix Hernandez, right, is getting 4.72 runs of support per game, 18th worst in the AL:
April 1OaklandW, 6-2952250Yes
April 6TexasL, 7-3764263Yes
April 11TorontoW, 8-76127762No
April 16Kansas CityL, 7-0565262Yes
April 21OaklandW, 1-072/340083Yes
April 26DetroitW, 7-3643242Yes
May 1BostonL, 3-27622101No