This wasn’t so much a game as a plaintive cry from a first-place team that has grown afraid of its bullpen.
The Seattle Mariners need help and cannot find it on their own staff, and if anyone needed more evidence it came Wednesday in Fenway Park, where three relievers failed to hold a five-run, eighth-inning lead - and Edwin Hurtado gave up a bases-loaded hit in the 10th inning to hand Boston an 8-7 victory.
No loss this season more clearly illustrated the Mariners’ most glaring weakness.
“We’ve got to forget it,” Edgar Martinez said. “We’ve done it before.”
As another game unraveled, the Mariners watched a 7-2 lead in the eighth inning slip away one pitch at a time. Bobby Ayala couldn’t stop Boston. Nor could Bob Wells. Nor Norm Charlton.
Two outs into a bizarre ninth inning, with the tying run at third base and two out, Charlton got rookie Nomar Garciaparra to ground to shortstop.
Alex Rodriguez fielded it cleanly - and threw it away, allowing the run to score.
“That’s a play we make all the time,” Charlton said. “Just not today. If I hadn’t put so many guys on base, it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“That’s a play I’ve got to make, a game we’ve got to win,” Rodriguez said. “We’re in this situation where we constantly have to make a big play to get out of trouble. Today, what I did was inexcusable …”
What Rodriguez wouldn’t say was that Seattle may have gone as far as it can go with what it has.
“Ask yourself this,” one veteran starting pitcher said. “How many first-place teams in baseball have 15 blown saves? How many first-place bullpens can’t throw strikes?”
It would be a short list that might begin and end with Seattle.
“You get burned by walks,” pitching coach Nardi Contreras said. “Somebody rallies to beat you with a hit-hit-hit inning, you live with that - those guys get paid to hit. But walks kill you.”
Two walks in the ninth inning. Two more, with two outs, loaded the bases for Boston in the 10th inning before Garciaparra singled home the winner that gave the Red Sox a two-game sweep of this series.
From his position in center field, Ken Griffey Jr. watched it all turn bad, and got play-by-play calls from the stands behind him.
“They were into it,” Griffey said. “They were yelling that tomorrow was the trading deadline, that we didn’t have a bullpen. You know, ‘What are you gonna do?’ stuff. This is tough, yeah, but it ain’t that bad. Look at ‘92. If this was ‘92, we’d lose eight in a row like this.”
What began as a close game - 3-2 into the eighth inning - looked like a blowout when the Mariners rolled out four runs in the top of that inning, three coming on The Edgar’s 17th home run.
“That’s a good lead, 7-2,” Martinez said. “It gave us a good chance to win.”
Spoken like a man who knows it wasn’t a slam-dunk victory, even then.
“In baseball, you can’t go back,” Rodriguez said. “We had to win this game, we had to win it 10 out of 10 times. I screwed up. I got the ball and tried to guide the throw over to first base.”
When one Boston writer suggested that all teams lose a few late-inning games, first baseman Paul Sorrento shook his head.
“We’ve had enough of these games,” he said. “We win as a team, we lose as a team. You start pointing fingers, it just gets worse.”
By the 10th, that didn’t seem possible. The Mariners had used six pitchers and had only one reliever available, Hurtado. In the chance that the game went on and on, Piniella sent Friday’s starting pitcher, Bob Wolcott, out just to sit in the bullpen.
Hurtado got the first two Red Sox batters in the 10th, then gave up a single - and threw nine consecutive pitches out of the strike zone, walking the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, then falling behind in the count to Garciaparra.
During that nine-pitch stretch, Piniella visited the mound. A few pitches later, so did second baseman Joey Cora.
The Mariners have been visiting one pitcher or another on the mound in the late innings all season. Seattle has 25 saves, enough to have pushed the team into first place. The Mariners now have 15 blown saves - enough to leave the Angels only one-half game behind.
“It’s not easy, but we’ve got to go on,” Rodriguez said. “Forget it, pretend it didn’t happen, whatever. It’s over. Ugly and over.”
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