SEATTLE – For the Mariners, having Joe Saunders on the mound at Safeco Field seemed like a reasonable slump-busting scenario. After all, the veteran lefty had never lost at the venue in 13 career starts.
But Safeco Joe was a no-go as the Rangers jumped on him for six runs – five of them via homers – in five innings. And the skidding Mariners saw their losing streak extended to seven games with a 9-5 loss.
Before the game, manager Eric Wedge had lamented that “people have really short memories” when it comes to the growing angst over the Mariners struggles. He pointed out that just a week earlier, after Seattle won a series against the Yankees in New York, “everyone was flying high.”
But it’s getting harder to put a happy face on the Mariners, who have been outscored 28-6 in their past three games. They dropped into sole possession of fourth place for the first time since April 27, falling out of a tie for third with the Angels.
Saunders’ dominance at Safeco had been remarkable – a 9-0 career record with a 1.72 earned-run average overall, and 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA in four previous starts this year. But the magic began to fade in the second inning when the Rangers’ Jeff Baker launched a two-run homer to right field.
Saunders was victimized by an even bigger blow in the third - a three-run homer into the left-field corner by veteran Lance Berkman.
The Mariners, meanwhile, had eight hits through the first three innings off Texas starter Justin Grimm before their offense fizzled.
In each of the first three innings, the Mariners came up with a two-out hit to score a run – a single by Kendrys Morales in the first, a double by Brendan Ryan in the second, and a double by Raul Ibanez in the third.
The game featured an eventful major-league debut by catcher Jesus Sucre, called up from Tacoma to replace Jesus Montero and thrown into the starting lineup. Sucre said before that game that when he was told on Thursday he was coming up, “I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ Those were my first words. It was great news.”
Sucre hit into two double plays in his first three at-bats. The first one was bizarre. With two aboard, he grounded to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who fired to second for the force. Meanwhile, Grimm, racing over to cover, converged with Moreland. Replays showed that while Moreland was stretching for the relay, Grimm actually grabbed the return throw while he was well off the bag. But first-place umpire Jeff Nelson called Sucre out, and Wedge lost the ensuing argument.
Leading off the ninth, Sucre lined a solid single to right off reliever Joe Ortiz for his first big-league hit, and his first standing ovation from what remained of the crowd of 22,053. He raced around to score on Ryan’s second double of the game.