April 17, 2009 in Sports

Mariners’ win streak unravels

Bullpen lets down Jakubauskas
Larry Stone Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Chone Figgins of the Angels gets tangled with Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez during first-inning play.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – Chris Jakubauskas, whose back story could be sold to Hollywood, was breezing in his first major league start, energizing the crowd of 18,528 – 12 more fans than the previous night.

Ichiro Suzuki delivered a fourth-inning single that made him the all-time hits leader among Japanese players. And then he came around to score the game’s first run – just maybe the only one the Mariners would need en route to what would have been their seventh consecutive win.

But that story line disappeared in the sixth inning, and was replaced by one entirely different, and much darker for Seattle fans – a Mariners bullpen collapse that negated all the good work that preceded it. Especially Jakubauskas’.

One strike away from getting out of the inning with their 1-0 lead intact, Roy Corcoran yielded a bases-loaded single to Mike Napoli on a 0-2 pitch that allowed two inherited Jakubauskas runners to score.

The rest, as they say, was misery. Napoli’s was the first of three straight hits off Corcoran, who gave way to Mark Lowe. And Lowe gave up another hit as the Angels scored five to salvage one game of the three-game series.

The game will always be remembered in Japan for Ichiro’s ascension to the top of their hits parade.

Japanese Hall of Famer Isao Harimoto, who was in attendance at Safeco, held the record with 3,085 hits. Ichiro’s single, a grounder through the right side, was the 3,086th overall in his career – 1,278 in Japan for the Orix Blue Wave, and 1,808 for the Mariners.

As he stood on first base, Ichiro received a standing ovation and doffed his batting helmet. After the inning, Harimoto was introduced to the crowd and received a nice reception.

The game will also never be forgotten, no doubt, by Jakubauskas. The 30-year-old converted infielder had kicked around the independent leagues for five seasons before a Mariners scout discovered him in 2007 pitching for the Lincoln Saltdogs in Nebraska.

He worked his way up rapidly through the Mariners’ farm system, dazzled in spring training as a nonroster invitee, and became the unlikeliest member of the Mariners’ season-opening 25-man roster.

When Ryan Rowland-Smith went on the disabled list Tuesday, Jakubauskas moved into the rotation, and Thursday was making his first major league start.

It was dazzling, despite the “L” that was tagged on his record – another career first, by the way. Jakubauskas was a poised, strike-throwing machine, hurling five shutout innings at the outset.

But the sixth inning did him in. He was lifted with one out and runners on the corners after giving up a pair of singles and reaching his pitch limit.

Corcoran quickly got an out at the plate when third baseman Adrian Beltre fielded Torii Hunter’s sharp grounder and fired to catcher Rob Johnson, who held on as Chone Figgins barreled into him.

But Corcoran walked Kendry Morales and couldn’t put away Napoli, irretrievably altering the rags-to-riches script of the night. Jakubauskas worked 51/3 innings, giving up five hits and two runs, striking out three with no walks. Of the 81 pitches he threw, 60 were strikes.

Johjima goes on DL

The Mariners have placed catcher Kenji Johjima on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring and selected catcher Jamie Burke from Triple-A Tacoma.

The Mariners also announced they had optioned infielder Matt Tuiasosopo to Tacoma and selected right-handed pitcher Sean White from the Rainiers.

Manager Don Wakamatsu said Johjima, who was batting .250 in seven games, will be out up to three weeks. Rob Johnson becomes Seattle’s starting catcher.

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