Four in a row.
The last time the Mariners played at Turner Field was June 22nd, 2008. The Mariners trotted out a lineup featuring Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Jeff Clement, Miguel Cairo...and Willie Bloomquist. R.A. Dickey, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Carlos Silva all pitched. Carlos Silva got to hit. He struck out. The Mariners lost. They lost a lot that year. At this point in 2008, the Mariners were already 17 games under .500. Now they stand 30-28, tied for a playoff spot with the team they trounced yesterday, the New York Yankees. If the A's beat the Yankees tonight, they'll hold the second wild card spot, tied with Baltimore.
The Mariners might not be among the game's elite teams, but they stole a win from the Atlanta Braves today after overcoming an early 4-0 hole, courtesy of Erasmo Ramirez. Robinson Cano had three hits, and Stefen Romero and John Buck both delivered huge home runs on a night where the ball was carrying with ease. The bullpen locked down six scoreless innings after Ramirez's exit, and the Mariners finally stole game from the black hole that has been the #5 spot in the rotation.
Today's game was anything but the game six years ago that ended before it began, although Erasmo Ramirez did his best to end it early. Ramirez's problem tonight was all too familiar, many of his balls were well out of the zone and too many of his strikes were easily crushable, evidenced by five hits in the first inning. The second inning brought more of the same, as even though he only allowed the one home run, his other pitches were hit very hard, all tailing back to the middle of the plate.
The Mariners have a major problem on their hands with the #5 spot in the rotation, and it's all hinging on the return of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. There's no more help in Tacoma -- Blake Beavan is hurt (and bad), Brandon Maurer is transitioning to a relief role, Anthony Fernandez is out for the year. Unless the Mariners turn to somebody off the 40-man roster, such as Matt Palmer or Jordan Pries, they're stuck with what they've got. It's a bad situation. Recently DFA'd Wandy Rodriguez could be a possibility for a few starts, but that's hardly appealing.
Walker's rehab start went quite poorly tonight, as he only sat 90-92 in the first inning according to Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto. He also walked three, and needed 33 pitches just to get out of the first. It didn't get much better in the second, walking another and hitting a batter. There's little chance he'll be called up after this one, and at this point you just hope nothing was wrong physically.
The first inning started with Jason Heyward thrashing a double to the corner and a B.J. Upton single. Right away Ramirez's location troubles were evident. Ramirez doesn't usually walk many guys, but he's constantly struggled with his strikes being easily hittable. Freddie Freeman lined in a run, and two batters later Evan Gattis made Ramirez pay the ultimate price for leaving pitches over the middle - a line drive bomb to right. 4-0, just like that. Doom, gloom, another lost game from the #5 spot.
Maybe not. Brad Miller drove in a run in the 2nd inning, slowly showing more positive signs. He stayed back to rip a ball up the middle, not bailing out early like we've seen him do so many times over the past two month. The Mariners will take anything they can get from Miller, who's putting together a nice little run as of late. James Jones stung a single to bring him home, and a game that seemed over from the get-go was suddenly not out of reach anymore at 4-2.
That is, until Ramirez got back on the mound, promptly hanging this slider to B.J. Upton, which he in turn destroyed to center field.
It was as bad as it looked.
The Mariners caught a brutal break in the 3rd inning after Robinson Cano doubled Michael Saunders over to 3rd, as Kyle Seager ripped a grounder right at Gavin Floyd who picked off Saunders at 3rd. Inches to the side and that ball shoots up the middle, and the Mariners only trail 5-4. Instead they lost the lead runner and gained an out. Justin Smoak then popped up 3-0 gift fastball in the middle of the plate, and Dustin Ackley missed a game-tying three run homer by about ten feet. It would have felt a whole lot worse if Ramirez wasn't destined to take the mound and cough up more runs almost immediately, which he tried his best to do, loading the bases for pitcher Gavin Floyd. Floyd struck out, but not before Erasmo offered him the exact same hanging breaking ball that B.J. Upton planted over the center field wall. It would be the first of many gifts Gavin Floyd offered the Mariners.
After the Mariners got the first two men on in the top of the 5th, McClendon sat Ramirez down as Stefen Romero pinch hit for him, and what a decision it was. While I was initially entirely focused on how terrible Erasmo Ramirez was today, Gavin Floyd was pretty awful himself, leaving one up in the zone for Romero with two on, who promptly did this.
Brand. New. Ballgame. McClendon deserves a ton of credit for sacrificing the bullpen in order to cash in on a clear opportunity. Floyd had been terrible despite a failed opportunity to cash in previously, and there was a window to do some damage before the Braves went to the bullpen themselves. The Mariners send out Iwakuma tomorrow morning, and they've got a day off on Thursday. It was as good of a day as ever to tax the pen.
Tom Wilhelmsen came in to fill some innings and didn't run into trouble until the 5th, allowing a couple of runners before getting a double play to end the inning. The play stopped the Braves from pinch hitting Dan Uggla for Gavin Floyd, and that proved to be costly. John Buck and Brad Miller ripped singles in the 6th, and Gavin Floyd was replaced two batters later than he was supposed to had the Braves not hit into a double play while he was on deck. National League baseball is kind of fun when you don't have to play it every day.
A needless sacrifice bunt by Endy Chavez sent runners to 2nd and 3rd, and Cole Gillespie pinch hit for James Jones to get the R/L matchup against new pitcher Luis Avilan. Gillespie didn't see much to hit, and he loaded the bases up for Michael Saunders, who lost a tough battle with Avilan, leaving the stage set for Robinson Cano, who rolled over to 2nd. Two bench players lost, and a golden opportunity to take the lead wasted. With Avilan coming in, it was confusing that Lloyd didn't pinch hit Gillespie instead of Chavez, keeping the matchup intact while gaining an out back. Hindsight is 20/20, but I'll never be a fan of bunting with a runner in scoring position unless it's at home, tied or down one, in the 9th or later.
The score remained tied until the 7th, when Dustin Ackley reached on an infield single before John Buck crushed an opposite field bomb to right field, putting the Mariners up 7-5. This is what we were waiting for from Buck - the reason teams put up with his poor framing is his considerable power, and this was a crucial time for him to come through with his first Mariner dinger. It proved to be the difference tonight.
Leone and Farquhar dealt with the next two innings with relative ease, giving way to Fernando Rodney, who ROOT showed several times wearing the wrong jersey while warming up. Not a misspelled jersey, not missing a number, but the batting practice jersey, the one with silver vents down the sides. Rodney grabbed the right jersey after a slight delay, and an inevitable Deadspin article on the matter was avoided.
Rodney froze Jason Heyward on a 3-2 change down the pipe, got Upton looking foolish on a nasty change down and in, and got Freddie Freeman to line out to Dustin Ackley. A relaxing ride on the Fernando Rodney Experience after a roller coaster of a game.
Tomorrow's game starts at 9:10 AM, giving the Mariners a considerable amount of time off before Friday night's game in Tampa Bay, a relatively short flight away. Iwakuma's on the mound against Mike Minor. Get your coffee, grab your hat, and get ready for some morning baseball. Why not five straight?