DETROIT — The problem this year for the Mariners’ bullpen has been the long ball. Gopher-itis.
It happened again Monday night in an 8-7 loss to Detroit when Vidal Nuno served up a walk-off homer to Justin Upton on the 12th inning at Comerica Park in a game the Mariners had numerous chances to win.
Upton drove a 2-2 change-up to left field for his second homer of the game. Earlier, he had a two-run blast against reliever Nick Vincent in the seventh inning that erased a Mariners lead.
Those were the 27th and 28th homers allowed this year by the Mariners’ bullpen.
"I got in my count," Nuno said. "It was just a little bit up. And he smacked it. It was the pitch that was working all day. I guess he was sitting change-up. Or off-speed. He smacked it."
It was a no-doubter. Nuno (0-1) had worked two scoreless innings before surrendering Upton’s game-winner. Vincent blew his fifth lead of the season.
So the June swoon continues.
The Mariners are 6-13 this month and now trail first-place Texas by 9 1/2 games in the American League West Division. As recently as the morning of June 3, they were tied with Texas for the division lead.
Houston is just 1 1/2 games behind the Mariners.
Despite Upton’s homers against Nuno and Vincent, it’s hard to pin this loss on the bullpen, which had to eat six-plus innings after another disappointing outing from starter Nathan Karns.
And while the Mariners squandered numerous scoring opportunities while going 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 runners…the lineup scored seven runs and collected a season-high 19 hits.
It just wasn’t enough.
"It does start with starting pitching," manager Scott Servais said. "We’ve talked about that all along. It was a struggle for Nate tonight to get much going. Location wasn’t great. Sequences weren’t great.
"We were fortunate to get through five innings with him."
Karns didn’t disagree after laboring through 100 pitches and giving up five runs in his five innings.
"I just need to protect the lead," he said. "When we get a lead like that, I need to have clean innings. For some reason, that just seems to be outside of my reach."
Karns gave up a two-run missile to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning on a pitch that "missed my spot by about 4 feet. Right into his power alley. He did what he’s supposed to do with that."
But the Mariners answered with a four-run second inning against Detroit right-hander Mike Pelfrey, who was even less effective than Karns.
Pelfrey allowed six runs and 12 hits in five innings despite benefiting from three inning-ending double plays. He gave up homers to Kyle Seager and Adam Lind.
Seager’s blast came while leading off the second inning after a Cabrera homer in the first staked Pelfrey to a 2-0 lead. Lind had a two-run shot in the fifth after the Tigers took the lead in the fourth.
The Mariners had better chances in extra innings after opening the 11th and 12th with doubles.
Lind started the 12th with a double to right against demoted starter Anibal Sanchez, the sixth Tigers pitcher. Lind moved to third on Chris Iannetta’s sacrifice bunt.
The Tigers shortened their infield for Franklin Gutierrez, who grounded out to short. Lind had to hold. Sanchez escaped when Ketel Marte lined out to third.
Upton’s homer turned Sanchez (4-7) into the winner.
The Mariners also missed a chance in the 11th inning after Shawn O’Malley led off with a double into the right-field corner against Alex Wilson, which prompted an intentional walk to Robinson Cano.
Nelson Cruz grounded into a double play that moved O’Malley to third for Kyle Seager, who grounded out to second. Cruz also grounded into a double play in the first inning and left six runners on base.
"It’s is what it is," Cruz said. "I’ve been struggling lately, especially with runners on. I just have to get to get it done. That’s my responsibility, to drive those guys in. That’s my job."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit worked more than one inning for the first time this season in 16 appearances. He pitched a brisk eighth but had to scramble out of a two-on, no-out jam in the ninth.
PLUS: Ketel Marte had four hits and reached on an error in his six plate appearances. The four hits matched a career high…Leonys Martin and Adam Lind each had three hits…rookie reliever Jonathan Aro made his Mariners debut by recording two outs in a scoreless sixth inning.
MINUS: The only starter without a hit was Robinson Cano, who was 0-for-4 with two walks. That ended his 14-game hitting streak against the Tigers…the Mariners hit into inning-ending double plays in three of the first four innings. They grounded into a fourth double play in the 11th inning…
STAT PACK: Adam Lind’s homer in the fifth inning was his 10th of the season. The Mariners now have six players in double figures: Robinson Cano (19), Nelson Cruz (16), Kyle Seager (14), Dae-Ho Lee (10), Leonys Martin (10) and Lind.
QUOTABLE: "You just stick it out," said Mariners right-hander Nathan Karns, who pitched five or fewer innings for the sixth time in his last seven starts. "It’s going to come.
"It’s just that right now I’m putting myself in good counts and then basically wasting it with pitches that can’t even be contested. I’m not even challenging the hitters. They’re out of the zone. I’ve just got to be better."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners have hit homers in 13 straight games and in 24 of their last 26. The 13-game streak is the second-longest of the season by an American League club. A distant second. Boston had a 22-game run from April 29 to May 22…Miguel Cabrera’s two-run home in the first inning was a 454-foot shot to the left of dead center. The ball hopped toward the parking garage beyond the stadium…the game lasted 4 hours, 29 minutes — or eight minutes shorter than the Mariners’ 3-2 loss at Tampa Bay on June 15 in 13 innings.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners