SEATTLE – This wasn’t so much a question of whether the Mariners could beat reigning Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.
More a matter of whether they’d score a run off him, something they’d failed to do in 29 consecutive innings. By the latter frames of a 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night, it became a question of whether they’d even make solid contact off Greinke.
Sure, the Mariners had scored a fourth-inning run, but that came courtesy of an infield single and a throwing error that moved Michael Saunders into position to score an unearned marker on a couple of ground outs. The Saunders hit was the only one managed by the Mariners until Jose Lopez lined a clear-cut single to left field with one out in the seventh inning.
By that point, the Royals had already taken the lead off Mariners starter Ryan Rowland-Smith and a sparse crowd of 17,555 at Safeco Field seemed resigned to a second straight defeat for the home side. It didn’t help matters that, after Greinke was finally pulled and the Mariners managed an eighth-inning run off the Royals bullpen, one of their own fans conspired to keep them from tying the game.
A double down the right-field line by Russell Branyan seemed like it might score Ichiro all the way from first base. But a fan reached out and grabbed the ball, forcing a ground-rule double to be called and Ichiro to be stopped at third.
The fan was ejected and the inning died from there, along with Seattle’s chances.
Ichiro might have helped his own cause had he – as the trail runner – headed to second base earlier in the inning when Jack Wilson stole third. But Ichiro remained on first and thus was not in a position to score on Branyan’s double.
Rowland-Smith, held to just one victory all season, continued where he’d left off last week after a solid, but winless, outing at Yankee Stadium.
He’d retired 10 of his previous 11 batters before Wilson Betemit launched a full-count offering into the seats in right field to tie the game 1-1 in the fifth.
And then, in the sixth, after Rowland-Smith hit Jose Guillen with a pitch to load the bases with two out, the Australian left-hander ran into some bad luck. Betemit shattered his bat on a ground ball and the barrel seemed to momentarily distract Rowland-Smith as it went spiraling deep into the infield.
In the meantime, the ball deflected off Rowland-Smith as he tried to jump out of the way of the bat. Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson appeared to have a bead on the grounder, but was unable to get to the ball in time once it hit his pitcher.
The go-ahead run scored on the play and was all Greinke needed.
Rowland-Smith left the 2-1 game after yielding a leadoff single in the eighth inning. Sean White came in and immediately gave up another single to put two on.
Guillen came up next and grounded into what looked like a fielder’s choice at second, which would have sent the lead runner to third with only one out. But Guillen appeared to pull a hamstring muscle as he ran to first and had to limp the rest of the way, giving second baseman Chone Figgins enough time to complete the unlikely double play.
But White couldn’t take advantage of the huge break. Betemit came up next and blooped a ball into shallow left field to give the Royals a 3-1 lead.
It was right at this ballpark on Aug. 30 of last season that Greinke pitched arguably the finest game of his career and likely cemented his Cy Young victory over Felix Hernandez. Greinke held the Mariners to just a lone hit in a 3-0 win and retired the final 22 batters.