In many ways, this was the worst loss of the year.
About midway through the Mariners game, the Oakland A’s pulled ahead 4-3 on a base hit from Nick Martini in the ninth inning. One Blake Treinen save later, they had defeated the Astros and were assured to lose no ground. The Mariners were facing the Padres, a worse team even than the woeful Marlins. Jacob Nix was making just his fourth big league start. A loss would push them to six games, as far back as they’ve been all year. Could we please win tonight?
Instead, Nix stomped the M’s in the most bizarre pitching line I’ve seen since Aaron Cook shut them out more than six years ago. Eight and a third. 79 pitches. No walks. No Ks. One swinging strike. No hitter worked an at-bat longer than six pitches, and were it not for this Nelson Cruz moonshot in the ninth, we may have seen a zero-K Maddux.
It’s not like the bats didn’t have a chance to get to him, either. Jean Segura laced a two-out triple in the sixth, but Cruz couldn’t get him in. Twice, Mike Zunino and Dee Gordon smoked back-to-back singles to set up a scoring opportunity for the nine-hole hitter. Too bad the guy in that spot tonight was Félix Hernández. As National League strategy dictates, both times he squared around to bunt, and both bunts ended in miserable double plays. His bunting form reminded me of me trying to lay one down in high school, and after the second double play, all one could really do was laugh.
If nothing else, tonight’s game was a strong point in favor of the DH.
That being said, Félix looked legitimately great on the mound tonight. Travis Jankowski muscled a first-pitch sinker just over the right field wall to lead off the first, though it’s a fair bet that any non-Cruz outfielder may have had a chance at taking it back. Unfazed, Félix rebounded by retiring the next ten hitters he faced. Although Wil Myers smoked a double off of him and scored on a Hunter Renfroe hit in the fourth, his secondary pitches looked very sharp tonight. Only two fastballs he threw were under 89 miles an hour, and his curve and change both had good bite.
Félix’s command started to wobble in his last two innings, but both times he was able to escape without allowing a run, getting Renfroe swinging on a perfect 1-2 changeup to end the sixth and flopping in a couple of breaking balls to ring up Nix for the last out of the seventh. Yeah, I know, it was the Padres. This was still as dominant as we’ve seen him all year, and he set a season record with nine strikeouts tonight. Only his June outing against the Rays at Safeco is comparably effective, and he worked eleven whiffs out of San Diego’s bats. Coupled with the little uptick in velocity we saw tonight, and maybe the King isn’t dead after all. One can hope.
Alas, because the ghosts of the 2010-2013 Mariner offenses decided to haunt the lineup tonight, I had resigned myself to a loss. But hey, even with the Neli home run preventing the shutout, a no walk, no strikeout loss is still unique. After Denard Span hit an easy grounder for the second out at the ninth, Kyle Seager was the last hope for either putting together a rally or capping off a statistically intriguing loss.
Six games back feels more and more like nails in the coffin. Yes, the M’s and A’s play each other seven more times, but this game felt more must-win than ever. Although Félix’s start was encouraging, tonight as a whole was just another disappointing loss. Erasmo squares off against Joey Lucchesi tomorrow afternoon, and we’ll once again be helplessly rooting for the Astros to keep Oakland at bay.
One can still hope.