Saunders didn't allow an earned run over seven innings, but the Rangers got two off reliever Carter Capps to win at Safeco Field.
If Justin Smoak had to do it all over again, he’d simply catch the ball this time.
But if Brendan Ryan had done that a few batters earlier, Smoak and the Mariners would not have been in the position of having to make split-second decisions to prevent the tying run from scoring. A depleted offensive attack in this 3-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Saturday night had the Mariners in the postgame position of second-guessing just about everything they did at the plate and in the field.
The bottom line is, scoring one run in nine innings against a three-time playoff team usually isn’t enough to prevail.
“It happened so quick, I should have caught the ball,” Smoak said of a Nelson Cruz line drive he knocked down in the sixth inning with the bases loaded, one out and his team up by a run.
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Rangers base runner Adrian Beltre was right in front of Smoak when he picked the ball up. But rather than tag Beltre and throw elsewhere for a quick double play, Smoak immediately threw to second base.
The Mariners wound up with a time-consuming double play on a rundown to end the inning, but not before the only run the Rangers managed in seven innings against Joe Saunders had crossed the plate first. Texas later scored a pair off relief pitcher Carter Capps in the eighth on two-out singles by Elvis Andrus and Beltre to hand the Mariners their eighth loss in 11 games, this one in front of 23,461 fans at Safeco Field.
Any mistake was going to be huge in a game where Saunders and Texas counterpart Alexi Ogando limited the damage early. Jason Bay had just driven in Kelly Shoppach with the game’s first run on a single to center in the fifth, but then Ryan’s uncharacteristic error on a potential double-play grounder opened the door to the visitors.
Instead of none on and two out, there were two on and nobody out. Smoak admitted he could have just tagged Beltre, who was racing back to the bag in the event the liner had been caught.
“He was right there,” Smoak said. “But your first instinct is to throw it to second base.”
In the end, making the play required split-second decision-making on a night Smoak and his team left themselves with no margin for error.
The Mariners entered minus injured Michael Morse and Michael Saunders and with Franklin Gutierrez out as well with a stiff groin. On top of that, Jesus Montero was again benched as the team tries to lessen his catching workload, leaving little offense to back up Joe Saunders as he once again held the Rangers in check. Saunders allowed just five fly balls, while scattering three singles.
Unfortunately for Saunders, who got the double-play grounder he needed in that sixth, Ryan just wasn’t up to the task this time.
Neither was Capps, who walked Craig Gentry to start the eighth and then, with two out and a runner on second, gave up the hits that lost the contest. After Andrus put Texas ahead with a single to right, he later broke for second on a steal attempt.
Capps then uncorked a wild pitch, which enabled Andrus to waltz into third and later score easily on Beltre’s single to left.
The Mariners had squandered chances with two runners on in the second and sixth innings. In the lone inning they scored, they had runners at the corners with none out, but barely got one run home.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said the offense has to finish the job better than it did. That way, he added, the team can overcome the rare Ryan error and not need Smoak to save the day with split-second fielding decisions.
“We’re banged up, obviously,” Wedge said. “You’ve got three out of your first four hitters in the lineup out of there. But we still need to be doing better.”