For so many years the Seattle Mariners fell within the predictable and destructive lines of so many other struggling franchises.
Bad pitching and decent, but inconsistent, hitting usually meant a season full of high expectations had gone sour.
Through no fault of their own, the Mariners have done their best to buck that trend of old this season. However, Kansas City’s three-game sweep of the Mariners - culminating with a 2-1 Royals victory Wednesday - further validated one theory.
No matter how good the pitching is, you’ve got to score runs.
And for a team with two of its top run producers (Ken Griffey and Jay Buhner) stuck on the disabled list, you’ve got to cash in on scoring opportunities when presented.
Those chances, provided in heavy doses this week, quietly slipped by the Mariners against the Royals. Along with it, three losses that could have easily gone the other way.
“The last two days, we’ve left quite a few people out there,” Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. “We’ve got to take advantage of that. We’ve had our chances. We’ve got to get them in sometime.”
Sometime, however, never came against the Royals. Of course, it didn’t help that eight-game winner Kevin Appier was on the mound for Kansas City.
The Mariners would like to submit the ninth inning of Wednesday’s loss for further review of the lost art of clutch hitting.
Having spoiled yet another fine pitching performance - this time from Tim Belcher - the Mariners had a chance to right the ship in time to salvage one victory in the series against the Royals.
Trailing 2-1 in the ninth, the Mariners threatened to tie - or even possibly win - the game in the ninth inning against Royals relief ace Jeff Montgomery.
With one out in final inning, Alex Diaz and Joey Cora reached base on consecutive singles. A possible comeback was gaining momentum.
Even though Seattle still trailed, the thought of having Edgar Martinez and Tino Martinez coming to bat left substantial reason for hope.
Montgomery, trying for his third save in as many games, buckled down to strike out both Edgar (.354) and Tino (.307) to end the game.
“We made some big pitches to the last two guys,” Kansas City manager Bob Boone said. “The two guys we fear most in their lineup.”
That near miss perhaps best typified Seattle’s offensive woes this series. The lost art of hitting in the clutch - or as baseball calls it, MISP (men in scoring position) - over-shadowed some solid pitching performances this week.
Before Cora singled in the Mariners’ lone run in the seventh inning, Seattle was 0-for-23 with men in scoring position over two games.
Adding to Seattle’s offensive woes was a breakdown in fundamentals in the eighth inning.
Marc Newfield led off with a single but was thrown out at second when Darren Bragg’s bunt attempt bounced right back to Appier.
The fact that Seattle was scratching for runs late in the game says a lot about the performance turned in by Appier. Even if his manager wasn’t all that impressed.
“He’s been outstanding all year,” Boone said of Appier, who improved to 9-2 with a sparkling earned-run average of 2.06. “That’s probably the worst stuff he’s had, and I pushed him pretty far.”
Appier struck out all but one Seattle starter at least once. He finished with 11 strikeouts and four walks. He leads the American League in wins, innings pitched and opponent batting average.
“You had two good pitchers out there,” Piniella said, “and both pitched exceedingly well.”“I thought I threw the ball pretty well,” he said. “I think I simply got outpitched by him.”
More than happy to get off the subject of poor clutch hitting, Piniella’s thoughts shifted to Belcher’s strong outing.
“Belcher continues to pitch very well,” Piniella said. “He deserved to win it.”The 33-year-old veteran right-hander, who was without a team for most of spring training, took the loss but allowed two runs on seven hits in eight and a third innings of work. He’s now 3-1 with a 2.41 ERA.Kansas City jumped on top 1-0 in the second inning when outfielder Jon Nunnally - one of eight rookies on the Royals’ roster - sent a Belcher fastball over the wall in right-center field.The Royals added another run in the fourth when Keith Lockhart tripled off the wall in right and scored on Greg Gagne’s single.
“We’ve lost four in a row now,” Piniella said. “We’ve got to regroup.”