The battery of Jeremy Bonderman and Mike Zunino had bonded frequently this season in the minor leagues, but on Wednesday, they were clicking on the biggest stage.
Or at least as big a stage as a game between two second-division teams witnessed by an announced crowd of 13,823 can be.
But a potential storybook night for the Mariners was thwarted in a disastrous ninth when closer Tom Wilhelmsen couldn’t nail down the save. The Astros, held scoreless their previous 17 innings, unloaded for six runs in the ninth and stole a 6-1 victory at Safeco Field.
Wilhelmsen, asked to protect a 1-0 lead built on the strength of eight shutout innings from Bonderman and a clutch two-out RBI single from Nick Franklin in the eighth, was charged with five runs in one-third of an inning.
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Now the Mariners will re-examine the closing role as Wilhelmsen blew his fourth save.
“We have to talk about it,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Obviously, you want to do what’s best for the ball club and Tom, too. … Tom Wilhelmsen is still our closer standing here right now. The game is just over. Anything we do will involve a lot of conversation. We’ll make sure we do the right things for right reason.’’
Bonderman had thrown just 89 pitches and was working on a three-hit shutout when Wedge pulled him from the game. The manager said that Bonderman’s health history — he missed two seasons recovering from various injuries, including Tommy John and shoulder surgery — swayed his decision.
Asked if he considered leaving in Bonderman for the ninth, Wedge said, “No, no, we can’t do that to him. Not with his history. What are we, 13, 14 months off surgery? And he hasn’t been that deep in a ballgame in three or four years. A 0-0 ballgame, a 1-0 ballgame, you’re not going to do that to him. It wouldn’t be fair.”
Bonderman had no complaints with Wedge’s call. With Tacoma this year, he had thrown seven starts over 90 pitches, peaking at 104 on May 2. He went 97 pitches his last outing against the Yankees.
“I felt good,’’ he said. “It’s not my call to make. Tom’s one of the best in the game. I don’t have any problem with that move at all. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he’s probably going to seal that down.”
Franklin’s two-out single in the eighth scored Endy Chavez from second base, breaking a scoreless tie and setting up Bonderman for his second straight victory.
But Wilhelmsen gave up two quick hits to start the ninth, and then yielded the decisive blow: A bases-loaded double off the left-field wall by Chris Carter that scored two. Yoervis Medina gave up a third run on a base-loaded single by Brandon Barnes off left fielder Jason Bay’s glove. A two-run single by Jose Altuve off Medina broke it wide open as Houston sent 12 batters to the plate. A bases-loaded walk by Charlie Furbush completed the debacle.
“You have to throw it behind you and plug on,’’ Wilhelmsen said, adding: “I felt great tonight, with the exception of not being able to throw a curveball for a strike.”
Zunino, starting behind the plate a day after being called up from Triple-A Tacoma, delivered his first hit in the fourth inning, a solid single to center on an 0-2 curveball from Houston starter Jordan Lyles.
“I was able to get a breaking ball up, which he threw in my first at-bat (a strikeout),’’ Zunino said.
“I had it in the back of my head if I saw that again, I have to attack that pitch. I was able to hit it up the middle and not do too much with it.”
Zunino also was successful in his first throwing attempt, gunning down would-be base stealer Marwin Gonzalez handily with a perfect peg in the eighth.
“It was very exciting to jump in and get my feet wet and play, but we came out on the wrong end,’’ Zunino said. “No matter where you’re playing, it sucks to lose.”
Chavez led off the eighth with a single, and when the Astros botched Bay’s sacrifice with their seventh error of the series, leaving runners on first and second, the Mariners were in business. But Kyle Seager popped out and Raul Ibanez struck out, leaving it up to Franklin. And he came through, lining an opposite-field single to right off former Mariner lefty Travis Blackley.
Asked about Franklin staying calm in a big moment, Wedge said, “I think Nick likes the moment. That’s a good thing. He likes being up in those situations.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry