Mike Montgomery’s second big-league start went about as well as his first, the rookie left-hander pitching seven strong innings five days after tossing a solid six in his debut.
But he didn’t win either game because the Seattle Mariners (still) simply don’t hit the ball well enough to assure that a successful starter will be rewarded with a victory.
And they certainly don’t hit the ball well against Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer — few do — who again dominated the Mariners in a 3-1 Tampa Bay victory before a Sunday afternoon crowd of 27,906.
Archer (7-4, 1.84 ERA) struck out 11 Seattle batters and allowed just six hits and an unearned run through seven innings, 11 days after throwing eight shutout innings with 12 strikeouts against the Mariners in Florida.
He became the first pitcher in the modern era to record 10 or more strikeouts and zero walks in three consecutive starts. He is not, however, the first pitcher in the modern era — or during this season-long, 11-game homestand, which Seattle finished with a 2-9 record — to stymie Seattle at Safeco Field.
The Mariners (25-32) at least scored this time as shortstop Brad Miller drove in Nelson Cruz from second base with a two-out single in the seventh inning.
The run, naturally, was unearned, because Cruz only advanced to second base because of an error on Rays shortstop Nick Franklin, the former Mariner. But it was still the first run the Mariners had scored against Archer since 2013, a drought that spanned 21 2/3 innings.
“I thought we had real good at-bats off Archer,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s a dominant type of pitcher who can really shut you down, but I thought our approaches were pretty good. We just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it.”
Like in the fourth inning, which Seth Smith began with a double. Cruz followed by legging out an infield single. Runners at the corners, nobody out, Kyle Seager at the plate.
He struck out swinging. So, too, did Mark Trumbo, which brought Logan Morrison, one of the club’s hottest hitters, to the plate with two outs.
But when he took the first pitch for a ball, Cruz began to break for second base ... then stopped. He tried to stay in a rundown long enough for Smith to score from third, but was tagged out before Smith could slide across the plate.
The gaffe, McClendon and Cruz said, was the result of a misread sign by the team’s star slugger.
“Nelly thought he saw something that wasn’t there,” McClendon said.
Added Cruz: “The sign was to fake, and I went ... so I was just trying to make something happen in that situation.”
The Mariners also threatened in the ninth against Kevin Jepsen, who retired the first two batters before Trumbo reached on an error, took second on indifference, then moved to third when Morrison singled to right field.
But Miller lifted a flyout to right field and it was over.
Tampa Bay scored its first run off Montgomery in the first inning when Logan Forsythe singled to drive in Jake Elmore, who had reached on a leadoff walk. And after Montgomery retired 11 consecutive batters between the end of the third and the start of the seventh inning, Mikie Mahtook snapped that streak with a solo home run over the left-center field fence to put the Rays ahead, 2-0.
Of the first inning, Montgomery said: “I was rushing a little bit and I knew I had to battle to find the zone and get ahead of hitters. It was kind of a battle the whole game, and I just wanted to get out there and get ahead of guys and give up the least amount of runs possible.”
Despite the rough first inning, McClendon liked what he saw from the young starter.
“I thought he settled down and threw the ball pretty good,” McClendon said. “The change-up came around, the breaking ball came around. Was in and out with the fastball. I was very pleased with his outing.”
Tampa Bay (31-27) added an unearned run in the eighth against reliever Tom Wilhelmsen. Bobby Wilson reached second base on a particularly egregious throwing error by Miller, who fielded Wilson’s grounder and airmailed the throw into Seattle’s dugout.
Evan Longoria stepped in to pinch run. He moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, then scored on a sacrifice fly by David DeJesus off reliever Vidal Nuno, who was making his Mariners debut.
“Right now, we’re snake-bitten,” McClendon said, “and we’ve got to come out of it. And the only way you’re going to come out of it is to keep grinding it out. We’re easy-picking right now, but things will get better.”