SEATTLE – It’s not always fair to apply a label to a team before mid-May, knowing it takes time for hitters, along with the weather, to heat up.
The Seattle Mariners still have five games remaining in April but Sunday, in losing for the 15th time already this season, they did it with a performance that has become a habit.
The Mariners misfired again offensively, going 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, and made a key late-inning error that allowed the Oakland A’s to pad their lead in a 5-2 victory at Safeco Field.
Their lack of a consistent RBI producer and, especially, the inability for anyone to put up an at-bat in a critical moment that can change a game already have burned the Mariners multiple times this season.
“These guys are going to have to figure out a way to fight through whatever they’re going through mentally, and fundamentally for that matter, and finish off innings,” manager Eric Wedge said.
The killers Sunday were the fifth, seventh and eighth innings when a run at any time would have given the Mariners the lead or tied the score.
After one-out singles by Ryan Langerhans and Ichiro Suzuki with the score tied 1-1 in the fifth, A’s starter Brett Anderson got Chone Figgins to ground out and Milton Bradley to fly out.
In the seventh, after Michael Saunders’ infield hit, an Oakland throwing error and Langerhans’ run-scoring groundout, the Mariners trailed 3-2 and threatened with runners on first and third with one out. Instead, Ichiro flied out and Figgins struck out looking.
And in the eighth, after Bradley led off by bunting into an out, Miguel Olivo stood on third with two outs before A’s closer Brian Fuentes struck out pinch-hitter Luis Rodriguez.
That, in short, is how the Mariners have lost 15 times in 23 games this month, with five more remaining this week at Detroit and Boston.
“That’s the difference in the ballgame,” Wedge said. “That and making plays when plays need to be made in certain situations.”
Despite their offensive flubs, the Mariners remained a late run from tying the game until the top of the ninth, when two one-out hits by the A’s off reliever Jamey Wright forced Wedge into the bullpen again. He grabbed Brandon League, who faced Conor Jackson and got just what he needed – a potential double-play grounder to third.
Figgins misplayed it into an error that allowed a run to score, and the A’s added another on Josh Willingham’s RBI single, giving them a three-run lead.
“It looked like the ball bum-rushed him a little bit and he started back-pedaling,” Wedge said of Figgins. “League did a good job coming in and putting the ball on the ground. If we’re more aggressive right there, it’s probably a double-play ball.”
The Mariners wasted another solid outing by starting pitcher Doug Fister, who allowed four hits and a first-inning run in six innings. He escaped a huge jam in the fifth by getting three straight outs after Coco Crisp’s triple, keeping the score tied 1-1.
“He didn’t have his best stuff but he battled,” Wedge said. “That was a gutsy performance on his part. This kid is a competitor. He bows his neck and says, ‘Let’s go!’ That’s not easy to do, to leave a guy out there like that in that situation.”
Problem is the Mariners have left that guy out there throughout the first month this season.
They’re batting .188 with runners in scoring position.
Three regulars are batting less than .200 – Jack Cust at .171, Figgins at .160 and Olivo at .164.
And only Ichiro is batting as high as .300. He’s at .309 after going 2 for 5.
Wedge said it’s wearing on the team.
“It’s no secret what we need to do better,” he said. “It’ something we’ve got to continue to attack. We’ve got to stay strong with it. You can’t give into it. You’ve got to continue to believe in yourself and you can’t let it get inside you. You’ve got to stay strong throughout this.”
E—Kouzmanoff (5), Figgins (3). LOB—Oakland 11, Seattle 8. 2B—Willingham (3). 3B—Crisp (3). RBIs—C.Jackson (5), Willingham 3 (13), Matsui (12), Bradley (11), Langerhans (6). SB—Crisp (8), Kouzmanoff (2), I.Suzuki (8). S—Figgins. RLSP—Oakland 6, Seattle 5. RMU—Barton, Figgins 2, Bradley, Langerhans.
IR-S—Fuentes 2-0, League 2-2. IBB—Matsui. HBP—Ryan, Willingham 2. WP—Fister, League. T—3:05. A—16,530 (47,878).