They have held their own against the Red Sox and Angels, the Rays and Dodgers, and throughout the season the Seattle Mariners have come to believe they’re about as good as any team in baseball on a given day.
There are two exceptions: The Texas Rangers have won nine of 13 games against Seattle. And the New York Yankees, with the best record in baseball, have won four of five games.
The Mariners extended that fifth game as far as possible Friday, taking a tie into the ninth inning before Mark Teixeira homered against Mark Lowe and the Yankees came from behind to win, 4-2.
“All season long, the goal has been to have the chance to win the game late, and tonight we had the chance as late as the eighth inning against an awfully good team,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “We just didn’t get it done.
That home run will get the air time, but this one was decided by a Seattle offense that scored twice in the first inning and then vanished, and a Mariners defense that hurt starting pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith as much as the Yankees did.
The Mariners scored two against Andy Pettitte in the first inning and had Jose Lopez at third base with one out. Russell Branyan and Jack Hannahan struck out to leave him there.
Worse, perhaps, was the Seattle third inning, where Ichiro Suzuki singled, Franklin Gutierrez walked, and the 3-4-5 hitters went down so quietly that Ichiro never moved off second base.
There were reasons, of course.
Pettitte had won 224 major league games coming in. The Mariners countered with Ryan Rowland-Smith – and those two lefties put on a clinic for a Safeco Field crowd of 36,769.
New York’s Pettitte, the 37-year-old veteran, was dinged for two first-inning runs and then threw a cease-and-desist order on a Mariners offense that had scored just three runs in its previous three games.
In six sharp innings, he struck out 10 – usually with breaking pitches Seattle hitters couldn’t seem to lay off.
The only time the Mariners broke through was in the first inning, when Ichiro and Gutierrez opened the game with singles and Jose Lopez doubled Ichiro home. Ken Griffey Jr. grounded to the right side of the infield to get Gutierrez home, and the Mariners led, 2-0.
On most nights that kind of game, six innings and two runs allowed, would have qualified Pettitte for a win. This time, he was fortunate not to leave trailing.
That’s because good as Pettitte was, Rowland-Smith – pitching an entirely different kind of game – was better Friday. No, he didn’t have the strikeouts, but the only runs he allowed were gifts from his defense.
“I felt strong all night, I was throwing my breaking pitch for strikes, I felt I was competing,” Rowland-Smith said.
With runners on first and third base and one out in the second inning, Rowland-Smith got an easy double play ground ball to third base. Hannahan fielded and threw to second base for the force, but when Lopez couldn’t get the ball out of his glove, he missed the double play – and a run scored.
It shouldn’t have, and Lopez knew it, pounding his fist in his glove and turning toward the outfield.
“Sometimes you try to be so quick, it works against you,” Wakamatsu said.
Ahead 2-1 into the fifth, Rowland-Smith again had a bit of infield misfortune cost him.
This time with two outs and a runner at second base, Derek Jeter rolled one to the left side, where Hannahan lunged for the ball but couldn’t come up with it. Worse, he completely screened shortstop Josh Wilson on the play, and the ball went under Wilson’s glove and into short left field.
Charitably ruled a single, the grounder drove home the tying run.
“I saw it, I just didn’t get down all the way,” Wilson said. “I should have done anything to keep it in the infield, stopped that run from scoring. Even if I can’t get Jeter at first, I can keep the runner at third base if I just smother that ball. I should have.”
That was one of only three hits Rowland-Smith allowed, and if he deserved better when he walked off after seven innings, he’d held the New York lineup – which had scored 11 a night earlier – to two runs.
Continuing to impress since his return to the rotation last month, Rowland-Smith now has a 2-1 record and a 3.06 earned run average.
“He took on a team that had scored a lot of runs the night before and held them in check,” Wakamatsu said. “He gave us the chance to win it, and he was awfully impressive doing it.
“There were a lot of ifs, ands and buts in this game, but we had the chance to win it and didn’t.”