"Things continued to look rotten for the Mariners on Sunday, as the Tampa Bay Rays finished the day with a win after a twelve-hit, four-run affair that highlighted everything that has sent this season's early playoff hopes into hair-pulling anxiety.
Mariners rookie Mike Montgomery made his second career start against his former team, but quickly ran into trouble after walking his first batter and notching a run with back-to-back singles off the bats of Joey Butler and Logan Forsythe. But after a quick mound visit to calm his nerves, the left-hander quickly settled down to pitch seven solid innings of five-hit, two-run ball, at one point retiring 11 straight Rays hitters in a row.
"You know, I think I just let my nerves get the best of me out there, with the old team and everything. Nibbling. Trying to get ahead, find the zone. Felt pretty good once things got rolling," he said. It was Montgomery's first career loss, but it was far from a stinker--after allowing just a single run during his first-inning struggles, he kept the Rays off the board until the seventh inning, which saw Mikie Mahtook come back from an 0-2 count with a solo homer that would be all Tampa Bay would need for the win.
But it was those quiet bats that let Montgomery down yet again, as the Mariners connected for seven hits on the day with only a single run to show for their efforts. Chris Archer, longtime nemesis of just about every team in the American League, went through three innings with only a single hit allowed, looking as brilliant as usual in an outing that ultimately saw him notching 11 strikeouts without a single walk on the day.
But despite such dominance from the Cy Young candidate, the Mariners were able to string together a few hits on the afternoon, ultimately ending Archer's 21 2/3 scoreless inning streak against the club with an RBI single off the bat of Brad Miller in the bottom of the seventh. And yet, it could have been more. A costly mental mistake on the basepaths saw the Mariners go quietly in the bottom of the fourth after putting runners on the corners for the club's hottest hitter, Logan Morrison.
"It was my fault. Just stupid, really," Cruz said of the affair.
After Seth Smith led off the inning with a double, Cruz reached first on an infield single and then watched as Kyle Seager and Mark Trumbo struck out respectively, bringing Logan Morrison up in what could have been a good chance to tie the game at one before Archer could settle into another groove. But Cruz misread a sign from the dugout, thinking he was supposed to take second base on the first pitch.
Archer wound up, Cruz took off. A ball. He was stuck between second and first, dead in the water. The ensuing rundown ended the Mariners threat, and was indicative of much of what we have seen from this club during an unexpected 25-32 start to the season.
But to manager Lloyd McClendon, mental errors can be easily fixed going into the upcoming week's decisive eight-game road trip against three hot-hitting clubs.
"We've seen some good pitchers these past few weeks. I tell them every day, you know, we have to just keep our heads in there, keep grindin'. It's a long season, and sooner or later these guys are going to break out of it," he said.
And he was almost proven right in the ninth inning, as the Mariners, down 3-1, put together a mini rally against Rays reliever Kevin Jepsen. After two quick outs by Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, Mark Trumbo was able to leg out first base on a fielding error by Rays third baseman Jake Elmore. With Logan Morrison up to bat, Trumbo eventually found himself all the way at third base with Morrison reaching on a single.
That brought the winning run up to the plate in Brad Miller, who ultimately popped out to right fielder Steven Souza Jr., ending an 11 game home stand the Mariners will surely be looking to forget over the next two weeks" is what I would have said were I a team-employed beat writer, paid to be objective and just give you the facts like I was reading an autopsy report or something. I mean, hell, that last part may be exactly what I am doing.
The problem is that I'm not doing either of those things. See, my first draft of this recap last night was just a bunch of incoherent yelling with a lot of f-words--earnest to be sure, but not particularly readable. That's because this damn team may have dug themselves too deep a hole to crawl out of already, and I'm not talking about statistical playoff probability or a literal win/loss record. No, I'm talking about that very same mental fortitude garbage that gives us words like "grind out" and "pressing" from post-game interviews, even the ones I didn't make up as if I were a newspaper columnist with access to these people beyond their digital representation on my television screen.
And boy, in that mediated representation, you would certainly think it would be easy to program these 1s and 0s into a better ballclub than the one they are currently throwing out there. Instead, we get things like this,
and we laugh. We laugh because yes, it is kind of funny that Willie Bloomquist beat out a short dribbler for an infield hit against one of the best pitchers in either league, but we also laugh because of course it's Willie Bloomquist, playing in his second straight game, giving us something goofy to look at which doesn't ultimately mean anything in the larger scheme of things.
What you are looking at in the GIF above is 41-year old Raul Ibanez hitting 29 dingers on the 2013 Seattle Mariners. It's Munenori Kawasaki dancing in the dugout. It's Tom Wilhelmsen bending Alexi Ramirez' knees with that 12-6 curve in a late August. It's The Mariners. BLOOMSTICK, indeed.
Lloyd's actual quote after this frustrating mess was
Right now, we're snake-bitten and we've got to come out of it. And the only way you're going to come out of it is to keep grinding it out. We're easy-picking right now, but things will get better.
And he's not entirely wrong. Things will get better, and although it is an absurd thing to say, well...the season is very long. But what's going to hurt is if things get better after it's too late to matter anymore. If Rodney finds his groove and the pitching stabilizes and the offense finally starts clicking....with a thirteen-game deficit in the standings.
They aren't there yet. But to call them "snake-bit" obfuscates some of what they could actually be doing to mitigate these recent losses. Cruz may have misread Lloyd's sign to fake a steal in the fourth, but Jackson surely didn't when he got thrown out to end the sixth after reaching base. Two stupid outs which look everything like the same stupid outs on the basepaths that scream desperate rather than unlucky. Grind it out they must, but nobody has ever sunk a ship with level headed efficiency. There is usually a lot more screaming involved.
All of which is to say that it was a whole hell of a lot easier to displace my emotions from last night's loss and treat it all like I would some other team I don't really care about. And that's a strange place to be now, 57-games into what was supposed to be this team's best season of baseball since 2001. Instead, we've had grand slams off Felix, blowout losses, and close games decided through a series of blundering decisions capable of blowing the whole thing to smithereens.
We've had games with three hits by the entire order, and games like one this that showed us they don't seem to know what to do when they even get four. And while they still have time to turn it around, I think it seems apt to note that the Mariners went into yesterday by starting Willie Bloomquist over Robinson Cano, and the result was, at least, negligible.
All of which leaves us with the fact that the next couple of weeks are easily the most important of the entire season, perhaps even the decade. And while it's entirely possible they turn a corner and start to break out of this mess, the truth is that they have so far given you plenty of what to expect instead. And rather than continuing down the path that sentence would take us, well....here's a video of a stupid dog wearing a hoodie and pink tennis shoes.