The Seattle Mariners just don’t score enough runs, though it’s hard to argue with their timing.
When their pitching gives them the chance, the Mariners have developed the habit of scoring late in games – as they did Wednesday, when an eighth-inning home run from Franklin Gutierrez was the difference in Seattle’s 4-3 victory over San Diego.
Not only was it the Mariners’ 19th one-run win of the season, that home run meant that 17 of the Mariners’ last 25 runs have come in the seventh inning or later.
“I don’t care if we win by 10 runs or one run,” Gutierrez said. “As long as we win, I’m happy.”
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With Brandon Morrow making his third start of the season, it took Seattle four pitchers to get through the Padres – but that pitching was surely good enough. The problem, as always, was offense.
The Mariners had 11 hits, and wasted most of them. It made the game closer than it might have been.
Morrow, Chris Jakubauskas, Sean White and David Aardsma held the Padres to three runs – none after the fifth inning. All that got the Mariners, until the bottom of the eighth, was a tie.
“Scoring early would be too easy, people would go home,” joked manager Don Wakamatsu. “We want our fans staying the whole game.”
If that’s the plan, it’s working.
In the first inning, the Mariners got two hits, two walks and still couldn’t score a run. Hard, yes, but not impossible.
Ichiro Suzuki led off with his 32nd infield hit of the season and took second on a ground ball out. Adrian Beltre and Ken Griffey Jr. walked to load the bases. Gutierrez grounded toward shortstop, but the ball hit Beltre.
Beltre was called out, Gutierrez was credited with a single, and Ichiro was sent back to third base. He was still there when the inning ended.
“That was a strange inning,” Gutierrez said.
They nearly did it again in the second inning, when singles by Yuniesky Betancourt, Ronny Cedeño and Ichiro resulted only in getting Betancourt thrown out at the plate.
Down 2-0, it looked like another wasted opportunity – and then Russell Branyan hit his 18th home run of the season, a three-run bolt to straightaway center field. It gave the Mariners and Morrow a 3-2 lead.
San Diego tied it in Morrow’s final inning, the fifth.
Neither team scored again until Gutierrez homered, but the Mariners’ streak of injuries in the past week continued to bite them.
This time, Betacourt strained a hamstring muscle in his right leg, and is likely to wind up on the disabled list. On this home stand, the team has lost Endy Chavez for the season, and everyone from Branyan to Griffey to Beltre has missed time with injuries.
“Yuni will have an MRI (today),” Wakamatsu said. “But we know he’s going to miss time. We don’t know how much.”
Morrow’s third start of the season was supposed to get him deep into the game, and the team had expanded his pitch count to 95.
“If we get him to 95 pitches, he’ll be ready for 105 to 110 next time and we can just about let him go,” Wakamatsu said.
Well, Morrow got deeper into this game than any other he’s worked all year – five full innings – but he didn’t quite get to 95 pitches. After throwing 87, he was done, and while he had three innings in which he conserved himself, there were two innings that cost him.
Morrow needed only nine pitches to get the first three outs of the game, it took him 31 to get the next three, and the Padres scored two runs before he did so. Again, in the fifth inning, Morrow couldn’t get quick outs, and needed 25 pitches to get through that frame.
By the time he did, San Diego had scored the tying run.
“He was efficient in the first inning, and we saw some better change-ups, better breaking balls,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s headed in the right direction. With 87 pitches tonight, we’re close to being able to just let him go.”
It was a subtle lesson as Morrow makes the transition back from reliever to starter – you can’t get deep into games when you labor through long innings early. Wakamatsu isn’t so much interested in how many pitches are thrown, but the effort required in throwing them.
After going three innings in his first start, then four in his second, Morrow’s five-inning effort Wednesday was progress of a sort. But slow progress.
The bullpen, meanwhile, simply shut the Padres down, and once the Mariners took the lead in the eighth inning, everyone in Safeco Field knew what was coming next: Aardsma time.
For the 15th time this season, he converted the save, lowering his earned run average to 1.57.