Seattle commits four errors, and Tampa Bay's James Shields gets 10 strikeouts before just 15,589, the second-smallest in Safeco Field history.
A second consecutive strikeout in which he stared at the final pitch crossing the heart of the plate was enough to free Milton Bradley from any more participation in his team’s worst game of the year.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu had seen enough from his newest clean-up hitter and quickly pulled Bradley from the remainder of the contest. In many ways, the end result of this 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on a cold Tuesday night seemed almost incidental to a greater shroud of gloom that descended over the postgame clubhouse.
After it was over, a cluster of veteran players sat talking quietly in one corner of the room, shaking their heads and staring off into space.
“You just say ‘It really can’t get worse than what’s happening,’ ” said shortstop Jack Wilson, who committed three of four Seattle errors on a night the Mariners could not throw, catch or hit the ball with any authority.
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Wilson is actually wrong about it not getting worse.
The Mariners revealed afterward that reliever Mark Lowe had an MRI done on his aching back on Tuesday and that a decision on what to do about him will come shortly. There’s a chance Lowe will go on the disabled list, further hampering a bullpen that’s struggled nailing down games during a stretch of eight losses in 10 contests.
“We talk about coming together as a club,” Wakamatsu said. “We’re kind of at a point right now, where, watching that game, I don’t know if anybody in this clubhouse is proud of it. It’s one of those games that was awfully sloppy. We talk about pressure, we talk about where we’re at right now. And some of those things we’re going to address and fix. I promise you that.”
A crowd of 15,589 fans — second smallest in Safeco Field history — booed the Mariners over the final stages of this fourth consecutive defeat.
Mariners starter Jason Vargas struck out a career-high eight batters over 6-2/3 innings, allowing just three runs.
But a pair of walks, in the third and fourth inning, came around to score and had his team playing from behind the rest of the way.
“I got behind a couple of guys and they seemed to put the ball in play when they had runners on base,” Vargas said.
One could almost sense this was over once Evan Longoria tagged Vargas for a home run to left-center field for a 3-0 lead in the fifth. The Mariners, after all, have scored three runs or fewer in seven of the last eight games and were owned for eight-plus innings by Rays starter James Shields.
Shields carried a 5-1 lead into the ninth before yielding a pair of hits. Ken Griffey Jr. then drove in a second Seattle run with a weak ground out to the right side off former Mariners reliever Rafael Soriano.
But a few innings earlier, with the bases loaded and two out, Griffey went down swinging at a nasty Shields changeup in the dirt.
The at-bat before that one saw Bradley look at a Shields pitch right down the middle for a called third strike in what was still a 3-1 game at that stage.
“We just felt that, with what went on in the two strikeouts, it was time to get him out of the ballgame,” Wakamatsu said, without elaborating further.
The Mariners face serious offensive challenges and have few immediate options available to make any improvements. That’s why nights like this one, when the Mariners start booting the ball around, make victory seem all-but-impossible.
Wilson said he was just the victim of bad luck on some strange hoppers and a foot that slipped out from underneath him as he attempted a seventh-inning throw. That third error put two on with two out and was followed by a high Willy Aybar pop fly that fell perfectly between three charging fielders for a fourth Tampa Bay run.
“I’ll take the same route on all those ground balls tomorrow,” Wilson said. “It’s one of those things where you’re upset you lose the game, but I’ll do all the same things tomorrow … what are you going to do?”
Wilson is routinely praised as the top defensive shortstop in the game and can remember the exact contest — nine years ago — in which he last made three errors. But he said the bad hops he took Tuesday night, as well as another by second baseman Chone Figgins, mirror those being felt by the team as a whole.
“It was almost like icing on the cake for us as far as stuff not going our way,” he said. “It really can’t get worse than what happened. The offense is still sputtering and one of our best attributes, our defense, kind of fell apart on us as well.”
Wilson insists all the team can do now is laugh and come back stronger Wednesday. But the laughter no longer comes easy for this team. Instead, it’s being replaced by a more deep-seated concern about just how bad this might get before things start to turn around.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For the record
vs. AL West: 4-9
vs. L.A.: 0-0
vs. Oakland: 3-4
vs. Texas: 1-5
vs. AL East: 3-1
vs. AL Cent: 4-5
vs. NL: 0-0
vs. LHP: 3-5
vs. RHP: 8-10
Extra inngs.: 0-3
Tuesday’s crowd: 15,589
Season total: 337,876
Biggest crowd: 45,876 (April 12)
Smallest crowd: 14,528 (April 19)
Average (13 dates): 25,990
2009 average (13 dates): 25,899