SEATTLE – Maybe they weren’t completely forgotten, because there were reminders throughout the first 15 games of fun and runs.
But when you are an offensive juggernaut, putting up seven runs a night, bashing a bunch of homers and pummeling starting pitchers, your blemishes and weaknesses are overcome and shrugged off in the success. It’s even easier to do against bad teams, which don’t have the experience or the talent to exploit or take advantage of them.
But this homestand against two perennial playoff teams has offered a revealing blue light of reality and regression.
Quality opposing pitching wouldn’t allow the Mariners to simply roll up eight runs or more in every game and their defense and bullpen will always be looming liabilities against good teams or in close games.
As if the first four losses of this six-game homestand didn’t offer enough reminders, the Mariners suffered through the same recurring issues for a fifth straight defeat, losing 4-2 to the Cleveland Indians.
Seattle will try to avoid going winless on the homestand with the afternoon finale at T-Mobile Park, sending rookie right-hander Erik Swanson to the mound for his first major-league start.
Cleveland starter Shane Bieber (no relation) delivered a solid outing, pitching six-plus innings, allowing one run on four hits with three walks and five strikeouts. He kept the Mariners hitters off balance and was able to wiggle out of trouble. His only 1-2-3 inning was the first. Seattle put runners on base in the next six innings, but came away with nothing.
Bieber’s only run allowed came in the second inning when Tim Beckham worked a two-out walk and then advanced from first to third on a wild pitch that catcher Kevin Plawecki couldn’t locate immediately. Two batters later, Tom Murphy dumped a single into left to score Beckham and give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Mariners starter Mike Leake was just as effective. He rolled through the first three innings with relative ease, using a pair of double plays to face the minimum number of hitters.
But Seattle’s defense couldn’t make the one key play needed in a costly fourth inning. With one out and Jose Ramirez on first base, Jason Kipnis hit a hard ground ball up the middle. Dee Gordon made an unbelievable diving stop on the ball and flipped the ball from his glove to Beckham on the second-base bag. It seemed like a sure double play once Beckham had the ball in his glove, but as he transferred the ball to his throwing hand, the ball squirted out.
Seattle settled for just the one out at second instead of being out of the inning.
Gordon had done the hard part, Beckham’s portion of the play was relatively routine. It wasn’t an error, but it was a play that should have and needed to be made to end a losing streak.
It came back to bite the Mariners immediately. Carlos Santana, who was a Mariner for about a month in the offseason, laced a double to right-center to score Kipnis from first to tie the score. Hanley Ramirez followed with a single to left to score Santana and make it 2-1.
Leake gave the Mariners six innings, allowing the two runs on eight hits with no walks and four strikeouts. He was lifted after 85 pitches.
Manager Scott Servais went to lefty Roenis Elias in the seventh inning with a spate of lefties scheduled to hit. Elias wasn’t sharp. He gave up a leadoff single to Tyler Naquin. Later with two outs, Elias was called for a balk, allowing Naquin to move to second. The extra 90 feet loomed large when Mike Freeman smacked a run-scoring single into left field. Leonys Martin followed with a RBI double to deep left-center.
Elias had turned a one run deficit into three.
The Mariners trimmed the lead to two runs in the eighth inning while extending the home-run streak that may never end. Jay Bruce ambushed a first-pitch fastball from Neil Ramirez, sending a towering fly ball into the seats in center. It was his eighth homer of the season and it gave Seattle a homer in all 20 games this season, adding to its MLB record.
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