When pitching success depends on guile and finesse, it is better to be wild - fastball-to-the-backstop wild - than just a wee bit off your game.
The first two batters Chris Bosio faced Monday, for instance, walked on nine pitches. Neither scored.
What beat the Seattle Mariners, 4-2, wasn’t Bosio’s wildness but a fistful of pitches that were in the strike zone - the wrong part of the strike zone.
Bosio gave up just five hits in six innings against Detroit, but three of those hits left venerable old Tiger Stadium with smoke trailing behind as John Flaherty, Chris Gomez and Travis Fryman connected for solo home runs.
Even then, a trio of one-run home runs might not have beaten the Mariners at all had they not waited until the ninth inning to pick up more than one hit in an inning.
“It’s the same thing too many games,” Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. “You look up in the fifth, the sixth inning, and we’ve got one run, no runs. We’ve got to score more runs. Tonight we had a chance, we just got started too late.”
Against All-Star pitcher David Wells (7-3), the Mariners went into the ninth owning three hits - all singles, each struck in different innings and two of them belonging to Edgar Martinez. Tough to mount a one-man rally. Then in the ninth, with Wells’ pitch count rising, the Mariners banged out back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases on hits by Rich Amaral, Gary Thurman and Martinez.
Sparky Anderson scrambled for stopper Mike Henneman and Piniella sat back and watched his Nos. 4, 5 and 6 hitters take their best shots.
The result? Two broken bats and a strikeout.
Jay Buhner shattered his bat on a two-run single that dropped into shallow center field, cutting the Detroit lead in half and putting runners on first and second base.
Bunt? Piniella wanted none of it.
“We weren’t going for the tie, we were going for the win,” he said.
Henneman then shattered another bat - belonging to Mike Blowers - and got much better results. As the bat’s barrel shot past Fryman at third, he ducked, fielded the ball and turned it into a double play.
“The bat just exploded, I didn’t even feel it,” Blowers said. “I knew he was going to try to come in. He did, and I thought I got it.”
“That’s just weird, two guys hitting the ball right on the screws and both bats shattering,” Buhner said.
Asked about the bad wood, Piniella scratched his chin.
“We’re going to have to order whatever bats Cleveland has been using,” he said.
Down to their final out with a runner at third base, the Mariners went quietly when Tino Martinez struck out for the third time, giving Henneman his 15th save and boosting Detroit back to .500 (32-32).
“Wells,” Felix Fermin said, shaking his head. “He was too good tonight.”
In fact, Wells and Bosio squared off like mirror images - Bosio the 32-year-old right-hander, Wells the 32-year-old lefty, coming in with 6-2 records and similar styles.
“Wells works outside, then inside and keeps you guessing,” Fermin said. “You try to be patient, go the other way, and he jams you. You look in, he hits the outside corner.”
“Bosio lives by his control and he hung a couple of pitches, left one fastball up,” Piniella said.
And that was the difference. A matter of inches. Wells put his pitches where he wanted, Bosio didn’t.
“It’s easier when you’re working with a lead,” Piniella said. “We just didn’t get anything going until it was too late. No team can win consistently waiting to score all its runs in the eighth and ninth inning.”
Over the first seven innings, Seattle had two hits, spaced four innings apart. Both by Edgar Martinez. The M’s got him as far as second once, when Wells unleashed a wild pitch.
Detroit wasn’t all that much more offensive-minded, but the hits it got went over fences as often as not. In his first 68 innings this season, Bosio had given up six homers. Then, in six innings, he gave up three.
No way of knowing precisely how he felt about that - Bosio disappeared faster than any of the home runs and was gone before the clubhouse door was opened to the press after the game.
Had he stayed, he might have pointed out that in the 21 games this year in which the Mariners have scored fewer than four runs, they have lost 13 times. Or that he had watched his bullpen blow four leads for him in a season not quite half over. Or even that this was just the third time in Bosio’s 14 starts that he’d allowed as many as four runs.