NEW YORK – Given the rate with which the Mariners were winning close games and the teams they were doing it against, anticipated regression was coming for them.
Common sense said that it wasn’t completely sustainable, particularly with the elevated competition during this part of their schedule.
But just because the “that’s baseball” logic makes the occurrence somewhat expected, it doesn’t mean it’s any more tolerable in the moment.
James Paxton gave up a pair of two-run homers in the first inning and the multiple Mariners comeback attempts fell a run short as they were swept in a series for the first time this season. Seattle (46-29) has lost five of its last seven games.
“Coming in here, we have been playing very good baseball,” M’s manager Scott Servais said. “We know what kind of ballclub they have with the power and the bullpen. I thought we were right in the game the last couple of days. But you have to hit on the road. You have to get big hits on the road. We just didn’t get it done. It doesn’t detract or take away from anything that we’ve done to this point. Our guys are not down at all.”
In that forgettable first inning for Paxton, the Yankees showcased their power and Yankee Stadium offered another reminder that any fly ball has home run potential.
It started immediately as Clint Frazier singled to start the inning and Aaron Judge followed with two-run homer just into the seats in right-center. On a 3-2 count, Judge stayed on a 96-mph fastball at the bottom of the zone for his 19th homer of the season.
The Yankees were inches away from back-to-back homers. Giancarlo Stanton hit a towering fly ball to center field that seemed destined to go over the fence, but Mitch Haniger robbed him of the solo blast with a brilliant leaping catch for the first out of the inning.
“I knew I caught it,” Hanger said. “But when my arm hit the wall, I wanted to make sure it was still in my glove. I couldn’t feel if it popped out or not.”
After striking out Didi Gregorius, Paxton allowed a single to Gleyber Torres and momentarily appeared to have retired Miguel Andujar on a pop fly to right field. But as the ball is known to do in the Bronx, it kept carrying and carrying until right fielder Ben Gamel watched it scrape over the fence out of his reach. The exit velocity on the hit was only 95 mph with a 36-degree launch angle and it traveled just 339 feet. Per MLB Statcast, similar balls in play with those measurements were a hit just 13 percent of the time. But this was a two-run homer and a 4-0 lead for the Yankees.
“I don’t think either one of those two are gone in Seattle,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “That’s kind of tough.”
Paxton shrugged off the situation.
“Both teams play in the same park,” he said. “I thought it was a fly ball because most the places we play it’s a fly ball. But it got out of here. That’s the ballpark and you are going to have that sometimes. You have to deal with it and move on.”
Paxton never found the sharpness typical to his run of success in May.
“I just had trouble getting it going,” Paxton said. “I had to battle because I didn’t have much. I really didn’t have much command. It was a tough day.”
He allowed at least one hitter to reach base in each of the next four innings as his pitch count ballooned. But he didn’t allow another run. He exited after five complete innings, allowing the four first-inning runs on seven hits with three walks and nine strikeouts.
“Pretty much after the first, it was everything I had on every pitch and just grind,” Paxton said. “I wasn’t hitting my locations. I just tried to fight my way through it. I threw some good pitches late. But it just wasn’t good.”
The Mariners answered the four-run first from the Yankees by cutting the lead in half in top of the second. Seager smashed a two-run homer to right off Yankees starter Luis Severino to make it 4-2. Seattle had the leadoff hitter on second base in the fourth and fifth but failed to capitalize.
The M’s finally trimmed New York’s lead to 4-3 in the sixth. Nelson Cruz led off with a single and later scored on Ben Gamel’s bloop single to right field.
But the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen squelched the comeback attempts. David Robertson worked a scoreless seventh, Dellin Betances dominated the eight and closer Aroldis Chapman notched his 22nd save of the season.
Seattle was 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position while stranding seven runners on base.
“We created a lot of traffic and a lot of opportunities,” Servais said. “But to win on the road, you’ve got to get that big hit.”
Prior to this recent stretch, Seattle showed a knack for delivering in those situations.
“We have been getting it and riding, but it just didn’t happen,” Servais said. “You’ve got to hit on the road to win.”
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