OAKLAND, Calif. — Maybe the outcome might have been different.
Maybe if the air was just a little cooler Monday, or if the game at a sold-out O.Co Coliseum was played at night instead of the bright, hitter-friendly afternoon warmth, the ball carries just six inches less and Austin Jackson makes the catch.
Maybe that key second out allows Chris Young to pitch out of the first inning, settle in for a quality start instead of giving up five runs and the game being done almost as quickly as it started in a 6-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Josh Reddick ripped a ball to center field. Jackson hesitated and then desperately tried to track the ball down, but couldn’t — missing it by inches. It went for a double.
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“I kind of froze for a second,” Jackson said. “I didn’t get the best break off it. The balls hit right at you are kind of tough to pick up.”
The next batter — Josh Donaldson — flew out to Jackson. It could have been the third out of an otherwise harmless inning.
Instead, Young was still on the mound needing to get the third out. And 20 minutes later, when he walked off the mound, he still hadn’t recorded that final out and the Mariners were down 4-0.
The game was effectively over.
“They returned the opening kickoff back (for a touchdown) and the day was over,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.
It wasn’t if Seattle would lose, but by how much. Young got charged for another run in the inning. But thanks to a solid effort from Taijuan Walker in long relief, the game didn’t go from decisive to blowout.
It wasn’t exactly the start that the Mariners (73-63) or Young (12-7) had envisioned.
“Chris didn’t make a lot of quality pitches,” McClendon said.
Young couldn’t argue with that assessment.
“I wasn’t sharp,” he said. “My stuff wasn’t good. I was flat. When I made pitches, they battled and fouled them off till they got a pitch to hit. They came out super aggressive. And I didn’t have it.”
Following the Donaldson fly out, Young gave up a towering two-run homer to Adam Dunn in his first at-bat with the team since being acquired in a trade from the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
“I didn’t think it was a horrible pitch, but he’s such a strong guy and he hit it well enough,” Young said.
It only got worse for Young. He walked Brandon Moss, gave up a single to Jed Lowrie and walked Stephen Vogt to load the bases. Geovany Soto knocked Young out of the game, hammering a 2-2 fastball into left field to score a pair of runs.
McClendon called on lefty Lucas Luetge to stop the deluge. Luetge gave up an RBI single to Eric Sogard with the run also charged to Young. Luetge finally got Sam Fuld, who made the first out of the inning, to make the final out of the inning.
Young’s line of two-thirds innings pitched, five earned runs, four hits, two walks and no strikeouts was easily the worst of this season and of his 10-year big-league career.
The outing from Young coupled with the struggles of Felix Hernandez on Friday night have led many fans to grumble about McClendon’s shuffling the rotation in recent weeks. Young hadn’t started since Aug. 23 — a layoff of nine days. McClendon was steadfast in his belief that the moves were right to rest his tiring pitchers.
“Let me make sure I phrase this right because a lot of people are going to take this wrong,” he said. “We did what we did for a reason. If you look at our starters over their last two or three outings, they haven’t been great. If you look around the league, the top starters throughout baseball haven’t been great. We did what we did for a reason and that’s to protect our starters. Will it be better the next time out? Yes.”
Young wouldn’t use the layoff as an excuse.
“To me, I expect to perform when I’m out there, regardless,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. When I take the ball, I expect to compete and I find a way to get it done. And I didn’t do that today.”
If it wasn’t the layoff, could it be fatigue? Young came into the game having thrown 1501/3 innings. He missed all of last season to recover from shoulder surgery and had only thrown more than 100 innings once (115 in 2012) since 2008. There is a concern he could be wearing down.
“I feel good,” he said. “I wouldn’t take the ball if I didn’t. Every pitcher goes through a period during the season where they don’t throw the ball as well; mine is right now. I’m going to get through it. I’m going to keep working and I’m going to finish strong.”
Down 5-0 after the first, the Mariners didn’t muster much of a rally. Their only offense was provided by shortstop Brad Miller, who hit a solo homer to right field off A’s starter Jason Hammel in the sixth inning.
“We battled and hit some balls hard, but the game was over at the first inning,” McClendon said.
In stark contrast to Young, Hammel had his best outing since being traded to the A’s earlier this season, tossing eight innings and allowing just the one run on three hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Walker provided serviceable long relief, pitching six innings and allowing one run on six hits with two walks and five strikeouts.