BALTIMORE – Ten pitches in an epic fifth-inning at-bat by Michael Saunders to break the scoring ice convinced the Seattle Mariners that things were finally turning their way.
Not to mention the three home runs that followed, including one by Mike Sweeney from a designated hitter’s spot that hadn’t seen any long balls all season. Throw in seven innings of one-run ball from starter Felix Hernandez and there’s probably no way this 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday should have happened.
But it did. And now, having dropped two of three to a team with the worst record in baseball, the Mariners find themselves fighting just to stay relevant in the American League West.
“It could get worse, but not much worse than that,” relief pitcher Brandon League said after yielding five eighth-inning runs to torch a 5-1 lead.
League replaced Hernandez after seven, with the Mariners comfortably ahead after homers by Ichiro Suzuki, Sweeney and Saunders. But League served up a solo homer to Corey Patterson, released by the Mariners in spring training, to start the eighth.
An ensuing wild pitch, single and a walk loaded the bases with one out before Luke Scott emptied them with a grand slam to left that lifted 20,938 fans at Camden Yards out of their seats.
“Usually, I get ground balls,” said League, who had been settling into a groove with his sinker in recent outings. “Today, I got a few, but not when I needed them.”
The Mariners didn’t get the relief work they needed after a rare game in which they did just about everything right. Now, they head to Florida for a three-game series in Tampa Bay hoping not to get swept again by the Rays.
Seattle had one final chance in the ninth against closer Alfredo Simon. But Josh Wilson, waved around third on a two-out single to left by Ichiro, was gunned down at home by Patterson to end the game.
Teams usually suffer through a few of these kinds of defeats every year. But the Mariners have wasted so many other games because of an offense that ranks as the league’s worst in most top categories that these one-day setbacks hurt a whole lot more than they should.
Saunders looked to have a play on the ball hit by Scott. But a fan in the stands reached out and stole the ball from him. The play was ruled a home run, because balls that look to be headed over the fence are fair game for both fans and players, according to baseball rules.
“To tell you the truth, I think I had it,” Saunders said. “When I hit the wall, I kind of didn’t have an idea why I didn’t catch the ball. Guys who saw it on replay said that a fan with a glove hit my glove away and I guess beat me to the baseball. I had a bead on it and when I jumped up and hit the wall, I kind of came down empty-handed. … And I thought I was going to at least be able to touch it.”
The Mariners again began lifelessly on offense. For the third day in a row, they entered the fifth inning with no runs and trailing 1-0 in the game.
Saunders fouled off four straight two-strike pitches from Orioles starter Kevin Millwood to stay alive with two out and a runner on third. Saunders then lined a single to right field to tie things up, followed by an Ichiro homer that put Seattle ahead 3-1.
Orioles 6, Mariners 5
|Griffey Jr. ph||0||0||0||0||1||0||.200|
LOB—Seattle 5, Baltimore 5. 2B—Langerhans (1), C.Patterson (1). HR—I.Suzuki (1), off Millwood; M.Sweeney (1), off Millwood; M.Saunders (2), off Millwood; C.Patterson (1), off League; Scott (6), off League. RBIs—I.Suzuki 2 (7), M.Sweeney (4), M.Saunders 2 (5), C.Patterson (1), Wigginton (21), Scott 4 (14). CS—Jo.Lopez (1). S—Figgins. RLISP—Seattle 1 (Jo.Lopez); Baltimore 2 (M.Tejada, Atkins). RMU—Jo.Wilson, Ad.Jones, M.Tejada. GIDP—C.Patterson. DP—Seattle 1 (Kotchman, Jo.Wilson, F.Hernandez).
|Hendrickson W,1-0||1 1/3||0||0||0||1||0||5.65|
HBP—by Simon (Jo.Wilson). WP—F.Hernandez, League. T—2:32. A—20,938 (48,290).