SEATTLE – The Mariners honored Ichiro on Tuesday night for his historic milestones, got career homer No. 626 from Ken Griffey Jr. in the second inning, and received a strong outing from starter Ian Snell.
“For six innings,” said manager Don Wakamatsu, “I thought we played a good game.”
But they play nine these days, and the Mariners let this one get away from them late. By the time it ended, in fact, not only had Seattle dropped the homestand opener, 6-3, to the Chicago White Sox, but they had three injuries to worry about.
Snell, nearly scratched from the start because of a bout of flu, jammed his left wrist diving for a bunt in the fifth. Shortstop Jack Wilson was removed from the game after bruising his heel in the seventh, and left fielder Bill Hall exited in the ninth, suffering from a cramp in his quadriceps.
Wilson is day to day, while the other two aren’t expected to miss any more playing time.
The Mariners can blame this loss on bullpen lapses and their failure in the clutch, going 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position while stranding nine.
After Snell handed off a 3-2 lead in the seventh, five M’s relievers combined to give up eight hits and four runs over the next three innings as the White Sox stormed into the lead.
“This game was a lot about the bullpen, obviously,” Wakamatsu said. “You win games by getting your closer in the ballgame.”
Noting that David Aaardsma has pitched just once in the last 10 days, he added, “We have to find the guy that’s going to step up and give us a solid seventh.”
That need is particularly acute now that Sean White is out for the season. He went on the 60-day disabled list Tuesday with right shoulder tendinitis.
“We’ve left it to Sean all year,” Wakamatsu said of the seventh inning. “It’s been pretty critical the last week or so missing him, and not having that guy to get to (Mark) Lowe. We’ve talked about Shawn Kelley or (Randy) Messenger or someone earning that role, but no one’s stepped forward yet.”
Lowe, forced into duty in the seventh when Kelley gave up two quick hits, was one strike away from getting out of the jam unscathed. But A.J. Pierzynski wouldn’t allow it. He fouled off four two-strike pitches until, on a 3-2 pitch, he delivered a two-run single to left to pull the White Sox into a 4-3 lead. On the throw home, Pierzynski moved up to second, where he scored on Paul Konerko’s double.
The Mariners had a golden opportunity to cut into Chicago’s lead in the seventh when they got runners to second and third with one out. But Jose Lopez, their RBI leader with 87, popped out to first and Matt Thornton came in to strike out Griffey.
In the ninth, the Mariners brought up the tying run, but closer Bobby Jenks fanned Lopez on a 3-2 pitch with two aboard.
In his ninth start since joining the Mariners in a trade with Pittsburgh, Snell turned in one of his better efforts. In six innings, he limited the White Sox to five hits and two runs, walking two and striking out four.
The illness, he said, wasn’t going to stop him.
“I felt like I had to go out there and continue my progress,” he said. “There’s no reason to take off because you’re sick. You have all night and tomorrow and the next couple of days to get over it.”
Snell said the wrist he hurt making a dazzling play on Scott Podsednik’s sacrifice bunt in the fifth was the same one hit recently by a line drive.
“My elbow hit me in the rib on the play – it was just a mess,” he said. “I just wanted to keep going. It ain’t broke, so I don’t want to come out. Nothing is keeping me out.”
The Mariners had jumped ahead in the second when Griffey reached his old teammate, Freddy Garcia, who is re-inventing himself as a finesse pitcher after myriad shoulder issues.
Asked to compare Garcia to the pitcher he saw while playing behind him in Seattle, Ichiro said, “His face looks the same.”
Branyan itching to play
Russell Branyan is back with the Mariners, but remains on the disabled list because of a herniated disc in his back. While he still doesn’t feel good enough to swing a bat, he believes he could play again when the M’s begin a series at Toronto on Sept. 24.
“The worst thing you can do in game of baseball is strike out four times and make three errors, but I would much rather do that than sit in the house on the disabled list,” Branyan said. “My goal is to get back out on the field.”