OAKLAND, Calif. – A return to the road Thursday for the Mariners resurrected memories of their miserable seven-game trip at the start of the season.
The short version is this: They lost another game they probably should have won when they bungled away an early three-run lead date in a, yes, miserable 9-6 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
They lost because James Paxton, untouchable through three previous starts, got roughed up and failed to make it through the fifth inning.
They lost because they failed to take full advantage of Cesar Valdez, a non-prospect who hadn’t appeared in the majors since 2010 but was summoned as a need-somebody replacement for an injury-depleted rotation.
They lost because their outfielders’ heralded defensive skills, much in evidence in previous games, went south over the span of a few innings.
And they lost because their bullpen collapsed after Taylor Motter erased a two-run deficit with a homer in the sixth inning.
Oakland broke that 5-5 tie later in the sixth against reliever Evan Scribner after Josh Phegley, a .188 hitter at the time, drove a leadoff double over the head of left fielder Jarrod Dyson, who didn’t appear to track the ball well.
“I thought I had it,” Dyson said. “I was waiting for it to come down, but he hit it harder than I thought he did. I thought it was going to come down to me, but it never did. It just kept carrying.”
Phegley moved to third on Jaff Decker’s sacrifice fly and scored on Rajai Davis’ grounder to short.
The killer blow came an inning later when Dan Altavilla, after issuing a pair of one-out walks, served up a three-run homer to Trevor Plouffe, who had struck out in his three previous at-bats.
It was a no-doubt boomer, but the walks were the killer.
“Something is just not clicking right,” Altavilla said. “I’m in a little valley right now, and I’m trying to work my way out of it.”
This loss didn’t match the pain of the Mariners’ last road game, but that’s a high standard – blowing a six-run lead in the ninth inning April 9 in a 10-9 loss to the Angels in Anaheim.
But this was a bad loss, and the Mariners are now 1-7 on the road.
The game started on script. The Mariners roughed up Valdez seemingly on cue. One run in the first inning, and two more runs in the second.
It should have been more, but three runs seemed plenty with Paxton on the mound. He had not allowed a run in three previous starts this season covering 21 innings, and he rolled through the first two frames.
Then everything changed.
First, Paxton’s season-long scoreless streak ended at 23 innings when the Athletics erased that three-run deficit by striking for three runs in the third.
Decker worked back from an 0-2 hole and grounded a full-count pitch into center for a leadoff single. Davis followed with a line single to center that moved Decker to third.
Adam Rosales poked an RBI single to right. When the throw from Mitch Haniger hit second base and caromed away for an error, Davis scored and Rosales moved to second.
Paxton struck out the next two hitters before Ryon Healy tied the game with a line-hugging RBI double past third base. Paxton finally ended a 30-pitch inning by striking out Trevor Plouffe.
“I wasn’t landing a good curveball for strikes,” Paxton said. “So they just started looking for fastballs, and I wasn’t getting them in good spots. I just wasn’t executing pitches very well.”
Valdez had meanwhile steadied, pitching two scoreless innings, before the Athletics, seeing an unexpected opportunity, went to the bullpen for Frankie Montas to start the fifth inning.
Oakland grabbed the lead with a two-run fifth inning after Davis wound up on third when his leadoff single scooted through center fielder Leonys Martin for a two-base error.
“It was moving,” Martin said. “It was like a snake in the grass. (A shake of the head.) Stuff happens.”
Rosales’ sacrifice fly to deep center made it 4-3, and the Athletics kept coming. Jed Lowrie rocked a one-out double to deep center and went to third on a wild pitch. Davis drew a walk, and Healy lined an RBI single to left.
The Athletics led 5-3, and that finished Paxton. In came Scribner, who stranded runners at first and third by striking out two hitters.
Paxton’s final line: five runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. His ERA jumped from zero to 1.78.
The Mariners answered against Montas in the fifth.
Nelson Cruz led off with a double and, after Kyle Seager struck out, Mottor drove a first-pitch fastball over the center-field fence for a two-run homer. The Mariners were back even at 5-5.
The recovery proved fleeting.
PLAY OF THE GAME: The ball that got past Martin for a two-base error in Oakland’s two-run fifth inning wasn’t the Mariners’ only mistake, but it symbolized a game they should have won but managed to lose.
PLUS: Motter had a double and a homer in four at-bats…Dyson also had two hits and flashed his speed in tagging from first to second in the first inning on a fly to right. That produced a run when Robinson Cano grounded a single through the right side.
MINUS: This makes four straight bad outings from Altavilla, who has allowed seven runs over 3 1/3 innings in that span with five walks…Seager struck out three times in four at-bats.
STAT PACK: Haniger’s hitting streak ended at 13 games when he went 0 for 3 with a walk. That walk enabled him to extend his streak of reaching base safely at least once to 26 games, dating to last season with Arizona.
QUOTABLE: Servais faulted Cano and Motter for Haniger’s error on the throw that hit second base in Oakland’s two-run fifth inning.
“We’ve got to catch that ball,” Servais said. “That ball is thrown to the infield. Robby or Taylor Motter, being the backup guy, has to come up and catch that ball in the air.
“It’s a bad habit that sometimes middle infielders get into because their hands are so good. Careless and it cost us.”
SHORT HOPS: Ryan Dull (1-1) got the victory. He replaced Montas after Motter’s game-tying homer…Healy had three of the Athletics’ 11 hits and drove in two runs…the Mariners had won 15 of their previous 19 games at the Oakland Coliseum.
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