This crippling, 9-8 defeat prevented the Mariners from a rare sweep and dropped them to a lowly 11-18 finish for the month. Instead of moving into a second-place tie with the Angels, they remain two back in third place and 6½ behind the division-leading Texas Rangers.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — A fitting end to a dismal month of May proved crushing for a Mariners team that looked to have turned a corner.
Instead, it suffered its most bitter defeat of the season on Sunday, a 9-8 heartbreaker to the Los Angeles Angels in which a closer running on fumes couldn’t find the strike zone. But what made this loss even tougher than the 17 before it in May was that it resulted not so much from an exhausted bullpen’s collapse, but the inability of an inconsistent offense to finish what it had started.
A Mariners team that led this game by seven runs in the sixth inning wound up stranding 10 runners, including two who reached third base in a squandered eighth inning.
“I think the game came down, obviously, to us stranding two runners at third base when we could have tacked on some runs there,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said in a silent clubhouse.
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The Mariners appeared headed for a rare series sweep here, which would have pulled them into a second-place tie with the Angels. Instead, after tired closer David Aardsma imploded in a walk-strewn ninth, sending 38,632 fans at Angel Stadium into a frenzy, the Mariners remain two games behind the Angels and 6 ½ back of the division-leading Texas Rangers.
Kendry Morales cinched it for the Angels by grounding a ball through the left side with the bases loaded on the 33rd pitch thrown by Aardsma in the inning. Aardsma had just walked Juan Rivera to force home the tying run.
“You could see it from the first pitch,” said Aardsma, who walked the leadoff batter and issued three free passes. “Obviously, walks are killers and I was just gassed out there. I was giving everything I had. Everything on every pitch, but unfortunately, I definitely couldn’t put enough close to the plate and make them swing.”
Seattle had an 8-1 lead by the sixth, bolstered by a four-hit performance by Ichiro, who extended his hitting streak to 24 games to move one from his franchise record. Ichiro hit a solo homer in the sixth off Angels starter Ervin Santana, while also collecting two doubles and a single.
But Mariners starter Garrett Olson, after allowing two hits his first five innings — and only a solo homer by Mike Napoli on the scoreboard — hit Erick Aybar to start the sixth. Olson then yielded two singles, a sacrifice fly by Vladimir Guerrero and a two-run homer by Torii Hunter to turn an 8-1 game into an 8-5 affair.
“You can never be on cruise mode,” Olson said. “You’ve always got to be in attack mode.”
With the score 8-6 in the eighth, needing a triple for the cycle, Ichiro drilled a ball down the right-field line. But right fielder Bobby Abreu cut the ball off before it could bang around in the corner, and Ichiro had to stop at second.
Ichiro was later bunted to third with one out, but Adrian Beltre hit a grounder to the left side and the runner was nailed at the plate.
Beltre was then waved around third on an ensuing Ken Griffey Jr. double — snapping his 0-for-22 slump — and thrown out by 10 feet when second baseman Howie Kendrick took the relay from Abreu and threw a bullet to the plate. Third-base coach Bruce Hines said it amounted to “a pure gamble” on his part.
“I thought Howie Kendrick went out one step beyond his range,” he said. “With two outs, we hadn’t been scoring. It was a pure gamble. In retrospect, the [Abreu] throw hit him perfectly, and he threw a strike to the plate.”
Wakamatsu wouldn’t second-guess the decision, even though Russell Branyan was on deck and the red-hot Jose Lopez due up after that. The offensive ascension of both Lopez and Beltre in this series had given the Mariners hope they could get on a winning roll and ride back into this race.
Instead, they put the game in the hands of an overused bullpen and, as was the case throughout most of May, the result was forgettable.
“I think once you get out to a big lead like that, sometimes, it’s almost just as hard to hold that as the other way,” Wakamatsu said.
Maybe so. But dealing with the aftermath of this defeat will certainly be far tougher for the Mariners than had the result gone in the opposite direction.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
For the record
v. AL West: 13-14
vs. L.A.: 7-6
vs. Oakland: 6-3
vs. Texas: 0-5
vs. AL East: 4-2
vs. AL Cent.: 5-10
vs. NL: 2-1
vs. LHP: 10-6
vs. RHP: 14-21
Extra inn.: 4-2