It took Bob Wolcott one full inning to adjust to being back in the major leagues Saturday, which was three outs and three runs too long.
Using three first-inning runs as a springboard, Detroit beat Wolcott 4-2 - and the Mariners finished the first third of the season a .500 team.
With the fifth sellout crowd of the year on hand in the Kingdome, neither Wolcott’s return nor the big-league debut of rookie Jose Cruz Jr. could slow Seattle’s descent. A first-place team 2-1/2 weeks ago, the Mariners have lost 13 of their last 19 games.
There were a smattering of boos early, and a chorus of them when reliever Bobby Ayala took the mound to open the ninth inning.
Ken Griffey Jr., whose pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season home run mark has fueled the first third of the year, was not amused.
“Getting booed on the road is one thing, but to boo Bobby or Norm (Charlton) when they warm up here, that’s not right,” Griffey said. “The fans want us to win, but do they think we want it less? We had the same expectations they did.
“Most of us in this clubhouse are here because we chose to be, we came back, signed contracts because we wanted to win here. We know we can play better, but can’t the fans stay with us through a bad month?”
That month would be May, which ended Saturday with the Mariners carrying an 11-16 record.
“It hasn’t been one thing, it’s been every thing, and maybe that’s good,” Alex Rodriguez said. “We’re frustrated, but we’re all frustrated. It hasn’t been one guy, one aspect of the game. We’re what, about three games out of first place?
“If we were three games up, it wouldn’t be over. Three games out and we’re not done, either.”
Griffey made it clear he wasn’t angry with fans, just a bit mystified.
“We had a bad month, but we could go 25-5 in June and Bobby and Norm may be a big part of that,” he said. “Look at the last month - how many balls dropped in for us, how many good hops did we get, how many calls went our way? Sometimes everything goes wrong, but it’s happening in May, not September.
“Fans read all those magazine covers and thought we’d run away with the division, lead from start to finish. It ain’t that easy. I heard some season-ticket holders called the front office and didn’t want to come to the games because we were playing so poor at home.
“It’s May. Nobody wants to be at .500, but if we were 10 games over we might have a bad June, or a bad July - would people give up on us then?”
For the most part, the Kingdome crowd of 57,118 Saturday was well-behaved, as if it realized this wasn’t a blown game, or even a particularly bad one by the Mariners.
This time, it was a hungry Tigers team - and Omar Olivares - that pushed the Mariners aside.
“Bobby Wolcott pitched well, especially after the first inning,” acting manager John McLaren said. “We just haven’t put it together yet. We’ve had games where we scored plenty of runs and didn’t hold them, and games where we pitched well but didn’t score. We just haven’t gotten hot yet.”
In many seasons past, a .500 record on June 1 would have been a solid start for the Mariners, but those days are gone. Instead, the expectations of a pennant race - in the clubhouse and in the stands - have made mediocrity unacceptable.
“We’re better than this, we know it and our fans know it,” Jamie Moyer said. “But every club I’ve ever been on has struggled at some point in the season. We’re struggling now. It won’t last.”
Trying to stem those struggles, the Mariners brought up Wolcott and outfielder Cruz on Saturday. Wolcott went eight innings and got the loss. Cruz went 0 for 4 with an RBI, hitting the ball sharply in three of his four at-bats - once when second baseman Damion Easley robbed him of a two-run single with a diving stop.
“I got to first base and told Tony (Clark), ‘Man, let me get my first big-league hit before you start robbing me,”’ Cruz said.
Down 3-0 after an inning, Seattle had two point-blank chances to assert itself and couldn’t quite break through. In the fifth inning, four consecutive Mariners reached base with one out but Easley robbed Cruz and Junior flied out. The rally produced two runs but fizzled.
In the seventh, Paul Sorrento singled - his third hit - and Russ Davis followed with his second single, but John Marzano, trying to bunt the runners along, forced Sorrento at third. Joey Cora’s ground ball, which would have scored a run had the bunt been successful, became just another out, and Cruz followed by popping out.