Hisashi Iwakuma hasn’t quite figured out the Boston Red Sox. The all-star right-hander has mowed down plenty of teams in his brief career in the big leagues. But the reigning World Series champs? Well, they do what few teams in baseball have done — hit Iwakuma and hit him hard.
The Red Sox roughed up Iwakuma on a perfect Wednesday night at Safeco Field, scoring five runs off him in four innings en route to a 5-4 win over the Mariners.
The loss snapped Seattle’s five-game winning streak and prevented a rare sweep of Boston.
Iwakuma pitched into the fourth inning, but never made it out, giving up five runs on eight hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
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“It wasn’t Kuma’s night,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “And I told him, and I mean this, ‘as a warrior, you don’t win all the battles, but you still win the war.’ Tonight was just a tough night for him. He’s my guy. I believe in him.”
It was his shortest start of the season.
“I couldn’t get first-pitch strikes, which cost me,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki.
A year ago, the Red Sox saddled him with his shortest outing of the 2013 season. On July 9 at Safeco Field, Iwakuma lasted just three innings, allowing six runs on eight hits, including three homers in an 11-8 loss. In three career starts against Boston, Iwakuma has pitched just 122/3 innings, giving up 12 earned runs on 24 hits for an 8.53 earned-run average.
“Every one of them put up good at-bats,” he said. “If you look at their No. 3 hitter and No. 4 hitter, they are tough outs and if you make a mistake, it will cost you.”
He made one of those mistakes to the No. 4 hitter — David Ortiz. In the first inning, he left a 2-0 fastball over the middle of the plate to Ortiz with a runner on first, which is never a good thing. Ortiz crushed the pitch off the scoreboard in right field for a two-run homer and a 2-0 first-inning lead.
“I tried to go down and away,” Iwakuma said. “I left it inside-middle. But falling behind 2-0 was the bigger mistake.”
Two of the Mariners’ hottest hitters answered for Iwakuma against Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz. Kyle Seager blasted his 12th homer of the season — and 11th at Safeco — ripping a solo homer to right field. Following a Logan Morrison single, Mike Zunino hit his fourth homer in five games, ripping a line drive over the wall in left field for a two-run homer — his 11th of the season.
But Iwakuma couldn’t make the 3-2 lead stand-up. He gave up three straight hits — a double to Jackie Bradley Jr. and singles to Brock Holt and Daniel Nava for the tying run.
His nemesis — well, many pitchers’ nemesis — Ortiz got to him again, giving the Red Sox the lead for good. Ortiz singled over right fielder Stefen Romero’s head, short-hopping the wall in right to score Holt.
In seven career at-bats against Iwakuma, Ortiz has four hits, including two homers and four RBI.
Iwakuma loaded the bases with no outs to start the fifth on a two singles and a walk.
With Ortiz coming to the plate again, McClendon went to the bullpen, ending Iwakuma’s night.
Iwakuma had been bothered by neck pain following his start on June 15 against Texas. In his two starts after, he’s pitched just nine innings total, giving up 10 runs on 17 hits.
“I do feel it, but it’s not affecting my pitching at all,” he said. “I’m responsible for the last two starts.”
Tom Wilhelmsen came into the difficult situation and was able to get Ortiz to ground into a tough double play into the shift.
Brad Miller fielded the ground ball about 15 feet on the second base side of the bag and had no one to throw to. Instead, he sprinted to second, stepped on the bag and threw to first off balance to get Ortiz.
A run that was charged to Iwakuma scored, but it could have been worse. Wilhelmsen struck out Jonny Gomes to end the inning. “I was just thinking damage control,” Wilhelmsen said.
Wilhelmsen and Brandon Maurer combined to keep the Red Sox at five runs. Wilhelmsen tossed three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three.
Maurer, who was called up before the game, showed that his new role as a reliever might be his calling. He pitched two scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out three batters with his fastball touching 99 mph.
Miller made it a one-run game in the eighth inning, blasting a solo homer to right field to start the inning.
But the Mariners couldn’t tie it in the ninth. Seager delivered a one-out single off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara and Morrison walked. But Uehara came back to strike out Zunino and got Dustin Ackley to ground out to end the game for his 16th save.
Buchholz (3-4) got the win, going 71/3 innings and giving up four runs on seven hits with two strikeouts.
“We felt we had a chance to win that ballgame if we keep it right there,” McClendon said. “We’ve been swinging the bats well. We’ve been competing. We just couldn’t get that big hit.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish