Seattle - So much for the sweep and the streak.
Toronto slugger Jose Bautista drilled a three-run home run in the eighth inning Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field, simultaneously ending Seattle’s chance at sweeping the three-game series against the Blue Jays and the bullpen’s streak of 17 scoreless innings pitched.
Bautista’s shot erased a one-run Seattle lead and propelled Toronto to an 8-3 victory.
That’s the bad news.
The good news?
The Mariners’ implosion was witnessed by just 12,407 people – the smallest crowd in Safeco Field history.
The few fans in attendance were on the verge of seeing something Seattle (4-8) failed to do since June 2010: sweep a three-game series.
Instead, they saw a bullpen that had allowed just six hits and four walks during its scoreless streak suffer a massive meltdown. Seattle relievers – but mainly Chris Ray – combined to give up seven earned runs and seven hits in the final two innings.
“It was a heck of a ballgame up to that point,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
“The eighth inning got away from us quick there.”
Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Ray gave up a single to Yunel Escobar and Corey Patterson reached on a bunt. Ray, catcher Chris Gimenez and first baseman Justin Smoak crowded around Patterson’s ball as it trickled down the first-base line, hoping it would go foul.
It didn’t, and Bautista made Ray pay.
The reigning American League home run champion crushed Ray’s 2-1 offering over the left field wall to turn a one-run deficit into a two-run lead.
“Chris just didn’t have it today,” Wedge said of Ray (1-1), who was charged with five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. “He threw a couple good sliders to Bautista. Then he just spun the next one.”
Toronto (6-6) piled on after that. Jayson Nix and Edwin Encarnacion hit doubles off Ray before he was pulled. Right-hander Josh Lueke didn’t fare much better, giving up a two-out, two-RBI double to Jose Molina that gave the Blue Jays a 7-2 lead.
The bullpen’s collapse overshadowed a fantastic outing by starter Jason Vargas, who was in line to get the win when he left the game. The left-hander allowed one earned run, one walk, five hits and struck out seven in 62/3 innings.
“Vargas did a tremendous job,” Wedge said, “Really threw the ball well against a tough lineup.”
Vargas hit a rough patch in the third inning. Molina hit a double into the gap and Escobar followed with an RBI ground-rule double that gave Toronto a 1-0 lead. With the heart of the Blue Jays’ order coming up, Vargas settled down. He got Patterson to fly out before getting an inning-ending strikeout of Bautista for the second time.
Left fielder Milton Bradley helped Vargas out of a jam in the fifth. With Molina on second and Patterson at first with two out, Vargas worked a 3-2 count to Bautista, who launched a deep fly to foul territory along the left-field line. Bradley charged in, leaned over the railing and behind a fan and caught the ball to end the inning.
“I saw him kind of coasting over there and figured he had a bead on it,” Vargas said. “When he went into the stands and came up with it I was pretty excited.”
Smoak gave Seattle a 2-1 lead in the sixth when he hit his first home run of the season, an opposite-field solo shot to left field.
Wedge said third baseman Chone Figgins, who has not played since Monday because of a bruised left thumb, might return to the starting lineup today in Kansas City. Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (stomach ailment) might be starting in center field for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers’ home opener on Friday on a rehab assignment that will last at least three games. Smoak’s solo home run in the sixth inning was his first home run at Safeco Field since being acquired from Texas as part of the trade for Cliff Lee last season.
Seattle kicks off a four-game series at Kansas City at 5:10 p.m. today, a game that will be televised by Root Sports. Probable starting pitchers: Seattle’s Doug Fister (0-2, 2.31 ERA) vs. Bruce Chen (1-0, 4.09).
Doug Pacey: 253-597-8271 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners