For an inning, the Seattle Mariners knew what it was like Saturday to be the big kid on the block.
Matched against a team that has become the measuring stick for every other franchise in baseball - the Cleveland Indians - Seattle took a 3-0 first-inning lead on a two-out RBI single by Tino Martinez and Jay Buhner’s 10th home run.
Bottom half of the first inning, Chris Bosio had his sinker working and second baseman Joey Cora turned in two dazzling plays.
If it had only ended there …
For the next eight innings, the Indians showed why they have the best record in baseball and the Mariners showed why they don’t, going quietly on to a 7-3 defeat that was Seattle’s fifth in sixth games.
“I like to win,” manager Lou Piniella said, “and we’ve lost five of six. I’m not too pleased.”
It showed. In the fifth inning, pacing his dugout, Piniella strolled by a pair of water coolers. Without much animation, he threw one down the clubhouse tunnel and kept moving.
He was hardly alone. It was a day when Mariners went to the plate and then returned to the dugout, slinging caps and batting gloves and at least one bat in anger.
“I had nothing,” starter Chris Bosio said, shaking his head. “The first inning, I had a sinker and got some ground ball outs, we put a three-spot up on the scoreboard and it looked good. When I went out there in the second inning, it was like I’d been sitting an hour. I had nothing.”
The Indians figured that out quickly - one run in the second inning, two more in the third and they were even. And when Cleveland is even, it figures it’s ahead. A team with a cumulative batting average of .293 and a 46-20 record thinks that way.
And a team like the Mariners?
“You’ve got to score runs in this league to beat anybody, that’s what the designated hitter rule does,” Piniella said. “You look at the Cleveland lineup, they’ve got five, six, seven guys with 30 RBIs or more. Look at ours - we’ve got kids with 12, 15, 18 RBIs. We’re not scoring runs when we get the opportunities.”
After that three-run first inning, the best chance Seattle had came in the fourth inning and didn’t last long enough to be ruled a threat. Buhner singled and Chad Kreuter grounded sharply to first baseman Paul Sorrento, who tried to force Buhner at second base.
The throw was wide, and pulled shortstop Omar Vizquel off the bag. Vizquel threw to first where pitcher Charles Nagy was covering, and Kreuter stepped on Nagy’s foot - and the bag - before the throw arrived. Umpire Mark Johnson called Kreuter out.
“I told him he missed that one, but he didn’t agree,” Piniella said. “They never do.”
Nagy walked the next Mariner, Mike Blowers, and had Kreuter been safe the bases would have been loaded with none out. Instead, Luis Sojo grounded into a double play and the inning was over.
Against Nagy, who entered the game with a career mark of 1-6 against Seattle, the Mariners never got another runner as far as second base and got only one hit their last five innings.
When the Indians kept pecking away at Bosio, Nagy sailed on, pitching his first complete game of the season.
The run that beat Bosio was a personal gift from him to the Indians. In the fourth inning, with one out, the veteran right-hander walked Jim Thome, hit Manny Ramirez and walked Sorrento to load the bases, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Sandy Alomar Jr. that made it 4-3.
“I couldn’t put the ball anywhere near where I wanted it,” Bosio said. “I needed a ground ball from Alomar, and he damn near hit a fly ball out. The All-Star break is coming at a good time for me. I’ve got a lot of little nagging aches and pains - my shoulder, my elbow, my knees - and the four-man rotation took a toll.
“We held our own, but it wears you down, without question.”
Just now, the Mariners are being worn down. Without Ken Griffey Jr., the lineup is down to three productive hitters - The Martinez Boys and Buhner - and spotted with pesky hitters who haven’t driven in many runs.
Combined, Rich Amaral, Cora, Kreuter, Sojo and Alex Diaz, five of the Mariners nine hitters Saturday, have 61 RBI in a total of 676 at-bats.
Without Junior, the Mariners have now gone 18-23.
Beaten Saturday by a team with six players going to the All-Star team, today they will face one who isn’t - Orel Hershiser, a former World Series MVP.
“Against that team, it doesn’t get easier,” Bosio said. “They’ve got veteran players who know how to play, great hitters who have come up through their system or been plugged in from outside. They have speed, they play defense, they hit with power and they have a good rotation and a closer who leads the league in saves.
“Yeah, that’s a pretty good team.”
When Randy Johnson threw a season-high 160 pitches in his 5-3 win over Cleveland on Friday night, the Indians clocked his last pitch of the game at 97 mph… . Lofton’s leadoff single in that game was only the third hit Johnson allowed to a left-handed batter this year. Left-handers are 3 for 29 (.103) with 18 strikeouts against him… . With 54 RBIs, Tino Martinez is seven away from his total of 61 last year.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.