April 17, 2012 in Sports

Mariners falter after building 8-1 lead

Seattle Times

SEATTLE — This wasn’t the way the Mariners hoped to celebrate their biggest inning at home so far this season.

But Kevin Millwood and company made sure memories of a six-run Seattle fourth inning were quickly forgotten by giving up a seven spot to the Cleveland Indians when the top of the fifth rolled around.

By the time this 9-8 defeat was in the books Tuesday night, after the Mariners had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and failed to score, the scant few remaining from the smallest Safeco Field crowd this opening homestand was in a decisively less-festive mood than had been the case earlier on.

Back then, life had seemed grand when John Jaso emerged from obscurity once again to pop another big hit — this time a two-run homer in the third.

That blast appeared like it would give the Mariners the lead for good once Seattle pounded Indians starter Justin Masterson without mercy in the fourth.

Justin Smoak had two singles that frame to open and close the rally that chased Masterson from the contest. The crowd of 12,461 at Safeco Field was in a state of jubilant disbelief watching the home offense work counts, draw walks, pound mistakes and make one of the game’s better young pitchers pay in a way few had done previously.

And then, it all went up in smoke.

Millwood had been rolling before the long, drawn-out fourth and was never quite the same when he finally took the mound again. His problems began right from the get-go when former Mariners infielder Jack Hannahan doubled to right center, followed by a single from Jason Donald and a Brendan Ryan fielding error that allowed a run to score.

Two singles later, it was an 8-3 game and Millwood was in serious trouble. Erasmo Ramirez began warming up in the bullpen, but not quickly enough to prevent Carlos Santana from launching a three-run homer to right field that got everyone’s attention in a big hurry.

Ramirez came on with the score 8-7, but could not stop the bleeding. He got a groundout, but then issued a walk to Shelley Duncan and a double to Casey Kotchman that sent the lead runner to third.

An ensuing walk loaded the bases and then a sacrifice fly by Donald — in his second at-bat of the inning — tied the game up.

Charlie Furbush came on and helped the Mariners escape that inning, then worked through a perfect sixth to settle things down somewhat. But with two on and two out in the seventh, Mariners manager Eric Wedge pulled Furbsh in order to have Tom Wilhelmsen come in to face Donald.

Donald promptly doubled down the right field line and the Mariners trailed for the first time since prior to Jaso’s home run.

Indians reliever Rafael Perez picked up the win, having tossed a scoreless sixth inning.

Prior to that, former University of Washington product Nick Hagadone wound up tossing 1-1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Masterson while his team got back in the contest. It was Hagadone who got a flyball out to end Seattle’s big fourth inning.

Then, after the Indians erupted to tie things up in the fifth, the Mariners saw their first two runners reach in the bottom of the inning on a walk and an error. But Hagadone shut Seattle down from there, notching a pair of strikeouts and then a flyout by Figgins.

Masterson had entered the game with a 2.77 earned run average his first two starts and having held right-handed hitters to a .120 batting average. The Mariners countered by stacking the lineup with left-handed bats, the biggest addition being Jaso, who had driven in the go-ahead run with a ninth-inning hit to go with an earlier double in Texas last Wednesday.

He didn’t play for the next six days, then stepped in against Masterson in the third and cranked a pitch over the right field wall with a runner on for a 2-1 lead.

But it wasn’t enough for the Mariners.

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