The Seattle Mariners still can’t figure out the ninth inning.
Edwin Diaz is no longer the team’s closer, stifled for now by mechanical issues he must fix before he can close again. So when the Mariners needed to protect a one-run lead against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night, they turned instead to Steve Cishek, the former closer who was demoted to eighth-inning duty last season after several blown saves -- and the only available right-hander in Seattle’s overworked bullpen.
First batter, pinch hitter Rajai Davis: single up the middle. Second batter, right fielder Matt Joyce: two-run home run over the right field fence. Lead gone, fans sad.
And then, somehow, it got worse. Cishek, activated Monday from the disabled list after a lengthy recovery from offseason hip surgery, recorded only one out before he was relieved by left-hander Mark Rzepczynski, who recorded one out before yielding a three-run homer to center fielder Mark Canha.
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When the ninth inning from hell finally ended, Oakland had scored five runs, plenty to secure this 9-6 victory -- the Mariners added a run in the ninth on Boog Powell’s RBI single, his first big-league hit -- before a stunned crowd of 13,955 at Safeco Field.
“I was ready. I felt great, actually. I felt better than I did yesterday, which is the sad thing,” Cishek said. “I was commanding my fastball in the bullpen, slider was really good. I was confident out there. Obviously, that’s not how I drew it up. It’s tough. That’s not the way I wanted to start coming off. It was a good chance for us to win the series right there and have confidence going into tomorrow, to hopefully sweep it, and it just all falls on me.”
The ninth-inning disaster wasted a valiant comeback that had Safeco buzzing only minutes prior.
With the score tied and two outs in the eighth, third baseman Kyle Seager launched a solo home run to right field to give the Mariners a 5-4 lead. And that clutch swing came one inning after two simple grounders changed the complexion of the game.
The first grounder was easy enough, headed right toward Oakland third baseman Ryon Healy with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Seattle trailing 4-1. All he had to do was field the thing and toss it to second base, and the batter, catcher Carlos Ruiz, would almost certainly have been doubled up after the turn, and the Mariners would still have trailed by three runs.
But these unlucky Mariners at last caught a break at a most crucial time: the ball bounded between Healy’s legs and into left field. Two runs scored on the error. Jarrod Dyson scooted from first to third. Ruiz stood at first. Leadoff batter Jean Segura stepped to the plate, an opportunity before him to tie the game.
He, too, hit a grounder, this one to the shortstop, that could have produced an inning-ending double play – and, at first, it appeared it did. After Adam Rosales flipped to second base to retire Ruiz, Jed Lowrie fired to first to try to get Segura. He was ruled out, but a replay review showed that he narrowly beat the throw. The call was overturned, allowing Dyson to score from third base with the tying run.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s two potential double-play balls that produced three runs and a grand total of one out.
The Mariners scored their first run on a home run by Nelson Cruz, his 10th of the season, a line drive that cleared the fence in right-center field to give Seattle a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
It did not last. Right-handed starter Chase De Jong began the second inning by walking leadoff hitter Yonder Alonso. Healy followed with a 443-foot home run clocked at 113 mph that climbed about halfway up the bleachers in the upper deck in left field.
The A’s added two more runs in the fourth thanks to doubles by Canha and Stephen Vogt, then a one-out, RBI single by Phegley to make it 4-1.
De Jong lasted six innings, allowing seven hits and four runs before giving way to the bullpen. Dillon Overton and Dan Altavilla combined to hold Oakland scoreless in the seventh and eighth. Seager came through with the hit they needed against A’s reliever Ryan Madson.
Then came the ninth, and there went the Mariners, those final three outs proving too elusive yet again.
“Putting Cishek in that spot, it’s tough, it is. He hasn’t been back here a long time,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “But he’s been out there before. You’re just hoping you can get through it. Unfortunately, we just didn’t get the final three outs and the nail in the coffin.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: Joyce’s home run. It came on a fastball Cishek tried to sink away in an effort to get a ground ball, but it caught too much of the plate, and Joyce put it in the seats.
PLUS: Seager homered for the second consecutive game, both of those coming in the eighth inning when the Mariners badly needed it. ... De Jong wasn’t outstanding, but he gave the Mariners the six innings they needed to help the overtaxed bullpen. ... Cruz also homered for the second consecutive game.
MINUS: In just his second appearance of the season, Cishek lasted only one-third of an inning, allowing three runs on two hits and a walk. ... Mariners relievers have combined to allow eight runs in the ninth inning of their last three games -- five on Tuesday, two on Monday and one on Sunday.
STAT PACK: Segura extended his hitting streak to 15 games. ... Mariners starting pitchers have lasted six-plus innings in consecutive games for the first time since May 5-6.
QUOTABLE: “You’ve just got to find a way to put it in the past and come back ready to go tomorrow. I think Edwin’s been doing a great job doing that. He showed he could do it last year. We’re just going to continue to try to get better every day, and just attack hitters and let our stuff take over.” -- Cishek on Edwin Diaz and what it’s like trying to bounce back as a closer