September 5, 2013 in Sports

Mariners suffer another walk-off loss

Geoff Baker Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Kansas City Royals’ Mike Moustakas watches his solo home run to win a baseball game during the 13th inning against the Seattle Mariners. The Royals won the game 7-6.
(Full-size photo)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – This was the crib-noted version of the entire Mariners season played out for those who only had time for 13 innings.

There was Raul Ibanez again keeping his team on life support in Thursday’s ninth inning with a tying home run when down to his final strike. But the Mariners had already frittered away a five-run lead, then wound up taking yet another walkoff loss in extra innings, 7-6 to the Kansas City Royals.

History will note the four-hour, 17-minute game ended when Mike Moustakas took Chance Ruffin over the right-field wall in the 13th after just missing a home run moments earlier in the same spot. But as usual, it was a culmination of missed chances that again left the Mariners wanting and lacking.

“I was trying to go fastball down and in, and he turned on it pretty good,” Ruffin said of the deep foul ball by Moustakas that had the Kauffman Stadium crowd of 14,004 leaping to its feet in a unified false start. “Later in the at-bat, the one that he hit out was supposed to be a fastball off the plate. I just missed right down the middle.”

The Mariners suffered their 11th walk-off loss this season, with only four such victories of their own.

Ruffin hadn’t pitched in the majors in two years, but the onetime college and minor-league closer says he relishes these types of tight games. He pitched like it his previous two innings, retiring five straight batters and striking out three of them.

“I had command of four pitches and I felt fine,” he said.

But by that point, the Mariners were on borrowed time. Charlie Furbush had spared any further damage for two scoreless innings after a Joe Saunders meltdown midgame cost Seattle a 5-0 lead. Lucas Luetge then carried things through the ninth, 10th and partway through the 11th before handing the ball off to Ruffin.

Along the way, Ibanez came off the bench in the ninth and cranked a solo homer to right with two outs on a 1-2 pitch by closer Greg Holland, a 100 mph flamethrower who hadn’t been taken deep since June. It was the 26th home run for Ibanez, tying him with Barry Bonds for the third-most all-time by a player age 41 or older.

Ted Williams holds the record with 29 home runs.

Holland had thrown Ibanez four consecutive sliders before leaving a fifth one up in his wheelhouse. Ibanez said he’d fought to stay alive, knowing Holland could unleash his 100 mph fastball at any time.

“Obviously, he throws 100 and he’s got a really good slider,” Ibanez said. “So, I was trying not to do too much. Just trying to swing easy and get just a base hit, a single.”

It was just the second home run by Ibanez since the All-Star break. He’d entered the day hitting .225 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .628 in the second half.

But he’d also had a pair of two-hit games to start the series here, including two doubles on Wednesday.

“I’ve been feeling better as of late,” he said. “I think in Houston, I felt a little better, too. I’ll just continue to grind and fight.”

And the Mariners, as they have all year, will have to keep doing that to prevent their season from slipping into ruin. They again fell 14 games under .500 after a 4-4 trip in which they won the first three at Houston in less-than-impressive fashion.

They got off to a quick start Thursday, with Kendrys Morales getting his team’s only hit with runners in scoring position, followed by a two-run Justin Smoak homer off Jeremy Guthrie to make it 3-0 in the first inning. It was 5-0 by the fifth when Saunders couldn’t make it through the inning.

He served up a two-run homer to Alex Gordon, then three more hits, a run and a walk with two out, before being pulled with his pitch count at 103.

“My pitch count was skyrocketing quick, I could tell,” said Saunders, who threw 35 that inning. “I was just trying to get out of the fifth and didn’t get it done.”

Brandon Maurer got the final out of the inning, but then yielded four straight hits and two runs that tied it in the sixth. Furbush replaced him and Justin Maxwell drilled a liner to left for a sacrifice fly and another run – the third charged to Maurer in the inning – to put Kansas City ahead.

While Saunders’ struggle was the day’s determining factor, the Mariners also again couldn’t muster clutch hits the final nine innings outside of Ibanez’s blast. They finished 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position in the game and 4 for 40 on the trip.

“I liked the five runs we scored,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We did have some other opportunities we didn’t take advantage of and that’s the difference for us offensively. And that’s something we need to keep getting better with.”

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