SEATTLE – A day after banging out 17 hits and scoring 10 runs, the Mariners, who managed just two hits, were shut down Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field in a 2-1 loss to the Oakland A’s.
“Little different game today,” manager Scott Servais said with a wry smile.
What happened to that explosive offense in less than 24 hours?
Sean Manaea happened.
The big lefty, easily the most talented pitcher on Oakland’s staff, shut down Seattle hitters in a manner that hasn’t happened often in the first 13 games. Manaea tossed seven innings, allowing just one run on two hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
“Give Manaea credit, he threw the ball really well,” Servais said. “Our offense has been doing so, so good. You don’t expect that type of game out there today. But that’s baseball, and the beauty of it. We didn’t have a lot of scoring chances.”
The Mariners’ first hit came in the fourth inning when Kyle Seager slapped a two-out single to center. Their first and only run came an inning later when Taylor Motter launched a solo homer to left, cutting a 2-0 deficit to one run.
“I was just hoping for a fastball and I got it,” Motter said. “With the offense we have, you hope it sparks a lot of things. We have a lot of damage potential in this lineup. So if I can do something in the bottom of the order to help, it’s good.”
But any flicker was quickly extinguished.
The other three batters who reached base against Manaea never got into scoring position. When the Mariners hit balls hard, they were caught. It was the third time in four starts that Manaea has pitched seven-plus innings and allowed two or fewer runs.
“Located really good, maybe the (velocity) isn’t the best we’ve seen it this season, but located his fastball really well,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Good slider today, good changeup today, good three-pitch mix. He’s throwing strikes.”
Seattle, now 8-5, saw its hope for a sweep and its four-game winning streak snapped.
Still, the weekend was a success on most levels. The Mariners won their third three-game series of the season and are still not at full strength.
“It was a good series and we won the series, that’s the goal,” Servais said. “We’ll keep rolling in that direction.”
That direction features a major impediment in the form of a raised level of competition when the World Series champion Houston Astros come strutting into town today for a three-game series.
The Mariners finished with a 5-14 record vs. the Astros last season, going 2-7 at Safeco Field.
“We played some close games with them last year, but that was last year,” Servais said. “We’re a different club. We’ll see.”
The Mariners got a solid start from Felix Hernandez, who worked 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts, though it didn’t start out that way. The A’s grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Hernandez left a 3-0 fastball over the middle that Jed Lowrie belted into the seats in right field for a two-run homer.
“I was trying to go sinker down and away, but it didn’t sink,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t know he was going to swing because he’s so patient, but he did swing, and it cost us the game right there.”
There was an argument whether it should have been a two-run or a solo homer.
Before Lowrie’s blast, Hernandez made an awkward pickoff throw to first base that caught Marcus Semien off balance. It looked like Semien would be out in a rundown. However, first-base umpire Carlos Torres called for a balk.
“It wasn’t a balk,” Hernandez said. “I stepped off the rubber. I don’t know what happened there. It was a weird play.”
Servais came on the field to dispute the call as Hernandez stood behind the mound and fumed. While Hernandez’s pickoff throw looked mildly uncoordinated, he did not, by rule, balk on the throw. He had clearly stepped off the rubber, and Torres simply misread it. The umpires conferred and ruled that it indeed was not a balk.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, Semien got to return to first base because Torres’ balk call meant the play was dead immediately.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It should have been an out. I stepped off the rubber clearly. I don’t know what happened.”
But after that misplaced fastball to Lowrie, Hernandez settled in and started using his secondary pitches efficiently, retiring 13 hitters in a row before hitting Stephen Piscotty in the fifth.
Hernandez couldn’t quite work a full seven innings. With his pitch count at 97, he exited with one out and runners on first and second. Lefty James Pazos entered the game and threw one pitch, resulting in an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
“I gave up two runs, it should have been one,” Hernandez said. “I gave my team a chance to win. Next time it will be better.”