ANAHEIM, Calif. – Franklin Gutierrez still isn’t quite sure how he made the fifth-inning, wall-crashing catch that might have saved the Mariners this game.
Nor is he too certain whether it was his head, shoulder or wrist that hit the wall first. About the only thing he knew after a late outburst helped the Mariners throttle the Los Angeles Angels, 9-4, on Thursday is that the dizziness that knocked him from the game had gone away an hour or so later.
That’s good news for fans of a Mariners team that have grown accustomed to seeing Gutierrez miss games due to injury and illness about as often as he makes these run-saving catches.
“I don’t even know how I caught that ball,” Gutierrez said. “I just ran hard like I always do and I’m just really glad I caught that ball because if not, they could have scored some runs.”
Indeed, it was still just a 3-2 lead for Seattle at that point with Chris Iannetta on first base and none out when Mike Trout blistered a line drive to the gap. A sprinting Gutierrez caught it, then went down a split-second later in a heap after colliding with the wall.
A stunned Iannetta, who had already rounded second when the catch was made, had to hit the brakes - slipping in the process - and beat a hasty retreat back to first. Gutierrez had the presence of mind to flip the ball to right fielder Casper Wells, who fired it back in to the cutoff man, who nearly nabbed Iannetta.
“You don’t think much at that moment, you just react to whatever happens,” Gutierrez said. “As soon as I caught the ball, my instant reaction was to try to toss the ball to Casper because I couldn’t get up.”
If the ball hadn’t been caught, Trout would likely have been standing on third with a run-scoring triple in a tie game with nobody out. Instead, the Angels and 37,377 fans at Angel Stadium in the team’s final regular-season home game were left to ponder what might have been.
Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma survived that frame, then a leadoff double by Kendrys Morales in the sixth before collecting the win.
“It really helped,” Iwakuma said of the catch, through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba. “If he doesn’t catch that ball, that would have been another run for them.”
Instead, he held the lead and Seattle blew it open with four runs in the seventh, starting when Trayvon Robinson - who entered in the sixth after Gutierrez left the game - drew a bases-loaded walk off Garrett Richards.
Kyle Seager followed with a run-scoring single, Jesus Montero hit a sacrifice fly and then John Jaso - who earlier hit a two-run homer off Angels starter Dan Haren - doubled to make it a 7-2 game. The teams traded runs from there as the Angels blew a glorious opportunity to close to within a game of Oakland in the race for the second wild-card spot.
Instead, by salvaging a game here, the Mariners might have forced the Angels to win just about all of their remaining six games to have a realistic shot of making it. It was a somber crowd filing out of the ballpark, seeming to realize the daunting task now facing their team.
For the Mariners, they were finally able to bunch runs together when they had to.
“It was nice to come through offensively because the pitchers have been carrying this time and time again,” said Wells, who helped get the four-run rally going with the second of two Seattle singles to start the seventh.
Wells had a front-row seat to the Gutierrez catch and says he never doubted he’d snare the ball - only that he’d hold on. As for doubling off base runner Iannetta, Wells said he might have been able to do that as well had he known how far from first he’d strayed.
“I wish somebody would have been yelling to me because then, I could have just thrown it directly to first base,” he said. “I don’t know. It would have been pretty close.”
As it is, the one play likely contributed to knocking two players from the game. Gutierrez told trainers on the field that he was OK, other than some soreness in his wrist. But soon after, he began feeling dizzy and knew he’d have to come out of the game the next inning and not take chances because of his previous concussion.
He felt better after the game and said he hopes to play this weekend in Oakland.
Iannetta left the game with leg cramps a couple of innings later. He attributed it to normal dehydration issues, though being a slow-footed catcher who had to change direction on the basepaths and sprint back like he did probably didn’t help.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he was pleased that his hitters took advantage of the chances given them by some sloppy Angels defense. Wedge also liked Gutierrez taking away a big inning from the Angels before it could really get started.
“You just have to love the way he plays out there in center field,” Wedge said. “He doesn’t pay any mind to his body, or what the repercussions are going to be. He’s just going after the baseball.”