SEATTLE – During the Seattle Mariners’ four-game winning streak last week, manager Don Wakamatsu wasn’t afraid to give credit to their aggressive and mistake-free style of play.
When the aggression leads to mistakes, games like Sunday’s happen.
The Mariners ran into two outs on the bases, made a throwing error in the field, walked nine batters and allowed the leadoff man on base in all but two innings in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Safeco Field.
Despite all that, the Mariners had the potential tying run at the plate in each of the last three innings, and in the eighth they had two runners in scoring position with one out.
Sign of a good team that has won its past two series? Or were the Mariners merely fortunate not to get blown out?
“We’d like to have swept them, but the guys played hard,” Wakamatsu said. “We’re an aggressive team. We’re a defensive team. And we’re a pitching team. Today we had the walks, but I’m awfully pleased with our effort.”
The Mariners were a hurting club, physically and emotionally, from the beginning.
Pitcher Ian Snell started his first game since the death of a family member last weekend, and he battled not only that but also the effects of a bacterial infection that left him coughing, sweating and looking generally miserable. He made it through five innings, hurt only by a misplaced changeup that Miguel Cabrera crushed for a three-run homer in the third inning.
Left fielder Milton Bradley was scratched just before the game because of soreness in his right calf, and Eric Byrnes started in his place. That became an adventure in the first at-bat of the game when Austin Jackson hit a high fly to deep left-center that Byrnes struggled to see because of the bright sky.
“We thought about closing that part of the roof for him,” Wakamatsu joked.
Byrnes crashed into the wall and the ball fell for a triple, although Snell pitched out of the jam.
The Mariners were on that kind of ride the whole game, getting into trouble and getting out of it with some superb defense.
First baseman Casey Kotchman fielded a bunt and threw a runner out at third base in the fourth inning; second baseman Chone Figgins stopped a hard smash to begin a double play that snuffed a Tigers threat with a runner on third in the seventh; third baseman Jose Lopez threw out a runner at the plate in the eighth; and Figgins made another stop of a hard one hopper in the ninth to start a double play with two runners on base.
“We were in trouble most of the day pitching-wise, but we’ve got to give a lot of credit to the defense to get out of a lot of trouble,” Wakamatsu said.
The Mariners’ offense consisted of Kotchman and a handful of opportunities.
His RBI single in the second inning gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead.
After the Tigers overcame that with Cabrera’s three-run homer, Kotchman got one of those back with a home run in the fifth. The Tigers scored their fourth run in the eighth off reliever Jesus Colome, who gave up two walks and two hits, including Jackson’s RBI single.
Baserunning, both shoddy and questionable, hurt the Mariners.
For the second straight game, Kotchman was caught in a rundown. This one happened after his RBI single in the second inning. It scored Ken Griffey Jr. from third base and moved Byrnes from second to third, where he was stopped by third-base coach Mike Brumley.
Kotchman, however, thought the throw from right fielder Magglio Ordonez was headed home and he steamed toward second base, only to have the Tigers cut off the throw and trap him in a rundown. Byrnes eventually broke toward the plate and was thrown out in a hard collision with catcher Alex Avila.
“I thought there was going to be a play at the plate, but I got caught,” Kotchman said.
In the sixth, Suzuki was on first base after a leadoff single and held his ground there even though Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer fell behind in the count to Figgins, then threw offspeed pitches on 2-1 and 3-1 counts while delivering with a high leg kick.
Suzuki waited until the count was 3-2. That’s when Figgins smoked a line drive to right field that became a double play when Suzuki realized too late that Ordonez had caught the ball.
“We made some baserunning mistakes and we’re going to address those,” Wakamatsu said. “Those are things we’re going to work through, but I think you have to stay aggressive with this ballclub.”
It helped the Mariners win four straight games and, despite the mistakes, they fell within one key hit of extending that streak Sunday.
“I think the confidence of the club is starting to grow,” Wakamatsu said.