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Sunday, August 9, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Out of right field: Yusei Kikuchi dazzles, but Mariners pen falters in extra innings

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 1, 2020

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi pulls his cap off as he heads to the dugout after the top of the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Seattle.   (Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi pulls his cap off as he heads to the dugout after the top of the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)

There’s an old adage that pitching and defense wins championships. While that may be true, you still have to score enough runs to win games. 

M’s starter Yusei Kikuchi allowed no runs on three hits and one walk while striking out nine – one off his career high – but he didn’t factor in the decision. 

And the Mariners turned in enough stellar defense to fill a week’s worth of highlight reels. 

However…

The Oakland Athletics took advantage of the free base runner in the 10th inning to push across a tiebreaking run and the A’s (4-4) held on to down the Seattle Mariners (4-5) 3-2 in the first extra-inning game of the season for the M’s.

In extras, it was a tale of two strategies.

With free-runner Tony Kemp at second, A’s manager Bob Melvin, a longtime National League guy, eschewed a sacrifice bunt attempt and allowed Stephen Piscotty to fly out to right. No matter, as pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman lashed a line-drive to right center off Dan Altavilla to break the tie.

M’s skipper Scott Servais took the other tack. No. 8 hitter Tim Lopes popped up an 0-2 bunt attempt with no outs and free runner Shed Long at second. A’s reliever Liam Hendriks did the rest, getting Dylan Moore to pop up to third and JP Crawford swinging to end it.

Train keeps rolling: Continuing a trend, Kukichi was masterful in his second outing of the season. His performance made three straight games in which the Mariners starting pitcher hadn’t allowed an earned run, covering 19.1 innings.

Of the three hits Kikuchi allowed, one was an infield single in which the runner was initially called out, and another was a fly ball that Lewis initially froze on and probably should have caught.

That single, by veteran outfielder Khris Davis, started the sixth inning and when Stephen Piscotty scratched out a single it put Kikuchi into hot water for the first time in the game. Kikuchi punched out No. 9 hitter Sean Murphy and leadoff Marcus Semien, then Matt Chapman rolled over to Seager to get out of the inning unscathed. 

Kikuchi struck out Semien and No. 5 hitter Matt Olson three straight times apiece.

Kikuchi used his cutter with particular effectiveness against lefties. Overall he got 20 swinging strikes, 10 on the cutter. 

Double your pleasure: Kikuchi retired the first seven hitters in a row before Steven Piscotty legged out an infield hit to third that was originally called out but was overturned.

On the next pitch, catcher Sean Murphy bounced one up the middle that was destined for center field but 2B Shed Long ranged to the shortstop side of the bag to gather the grounder and flipped sidehanded to JP Crawford for the force.

Crawford had to rush an off-balanced throw and Evan White made a terrific terrific scoop to complete the double play and end the inning. 

Long has a bit of a “hit first” reputation with the glove still a work in progress. But he showed a lot of range on the grounder and made a fantastic athletic effort to get the flip to Crawford.

One out in that situation would have been a good outcome, and even though Crawford’s against-his-body throw was spiked a bit, it was close enough where Gold Glove caliber defender White was able to find it. 

Hit machine(s): Kyle Lewis just can’t stop hitting. With a broken-bat infield single in the first inning, he became the fifth player in Mariners franchise history with at least one hit in each of the team’s first nine games of a season, joining Dee Gordon (2018), Endy Chávez (2009), Joey Cora (1998), and Gorman Thomas (1986).

He followed that with a two-out walk in the third to load the bases for Kyle Seager, who for the second night in a row delivered the M’s first runs of the game. Two came in, but Lewis was called out at third after beating the tag, but getting pushed off base by Matt Chapman. 

Lewis is hitting .444 so far and forming a formidable 3-4 combination with Kyle Seager, who’s crediting a speed-pitch machine during the break for his quick start. The vet is hitting .294 in nine games. 

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