CHICAGO – When a team depends upon its pitching as heavily as the Seattle Mariners do, victories are the product of a well-oiled line of arms that seamlessly eat inning after inning.
What happens when that pitching breaks down, as it did Wednesday?
The Mariners lose, this time to the Chicago White Sox, 6-3.
No, they weren’t blown out, and there was no controversy – no easy, “How could you put that guy in?” criticisms. Seattle’s pitchers who mattered most in the decision, Erik Bedard and rookie Shawn Kelley, simply weren’t at their best.
Neither was Seattle’s offense, which managed three runs despite 11 hits. But this team rarely wins solely because of its hitting.
“We had chances to put them down early, but we couldn’t capitalize,” manager Don Wakamatsu said.
The difference was in the pitching.
For Bedard, the starter who – healthy once again – had strung together four solid games coming in, the difference was subtle.
A man who had a nine-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, Bedard walk three in five innings after walking three in his first 26.
Those walks helped keep Bedard’s pitch count high, and he wasn’t merely playing catch the way he seemed to in some games.
Against Chicago, most of Bedard’s pitches came under duress.
“I just couldn’t throw strikes,” Bedard said. “I guess I wasn’t going to be sharp all season, but I battled.”
Only once did he retire the White Sox in order and, until the fifth inning, trailed 1-0 on a home run from A.J. Pierzynski.
“Rob Johnson threw two guys out trying to steal one inning, Wladimir Balentien made a great catch in left field to save me another time,” Bedard said. “I held them to one run for a while, but I just wasn’t pitching well.”
Still, when the Mariners strung together four consecutive fifth-inning hits – including a two-run double by Ken Griffey Jr. and one of four hits by Adrian Beltre – they handed Bedard a 3-1 lead.
Given that lead, Bedard labored through the bottom half of the inning, forcing the White Sox to leave the bases loaded and walking off the mound having thrown 88 pitches. In each of his past three games, he’d thrown 100 pitches or more, so Bedard went back out for the sixth.
“He wanted to go back out, and he wasn’t tired,” Wakamatsu said. “He just wasn’t real sharp.”
Paul Konerko singled. Pierzynski singled. And that was it for Bedard.
Wakamatsu brought Kelley out of the bullpen, a move that was hard to debate – the right-hander hadn’t allowed a run in the first 72/3 innings of his career. The White Sox used a Wilson Betemit double and a sacrifice fly by Alexei Ramirez to tie the game.
“I tried to get out of it with a breaking ball, but they got the ball in the air and got the runs home to tie it,” Kelley said.
Kelley was on the mound to open the seventh inning, and Carlos Quentin homered with one out. The next batter, Jermaine Dye, homered.
“They tell you when stuff happens in the big leagues, it happens fast,” Kelley said. “Quentin did a good job of hitting. I threw him a fastball down and away that I thought was pretty good, but he got it.
“The pitch to Dye was belt high. Just a terrible pitch, and he killed it. I tried to get in on his hands and didn’t.”
Essentially, that was that.
Chicago added a run in the eighth against Mark Lowe, but Seattle’s offense just couldn’t mount an attack late – and failed in every early rally they put together.
“We should have scored early and we didn’t, and that cost us,” Beltre said. “Sometimes, that’s how it goes. I felt great (Tuesday) and went 1-for-9 in the doubleheader.
“Today, I felt OK and got four hits. You can’t figure it out.”
In the first, second and third innings, the Mariners stranded two baserunners, ending each threat with a routine out. In the third, with two on and only one out, Russell Branyan, then Balentien popped out to infielders.
The loss was their second in three games of this series and sent them home with a 3-3 record on a trip that saw them open by winning two of three from the Angels.
“A tough trip against two good teams, and we said in spring training we just wanted to be in all our games,” Wakamatsu said. “Well, we have been. We should have won two of three here, but we didn’t.
“Now we go home and try to get it started again.”