Jason Bay owned his mistake from the get-go, knowing a veteran pinch-runner can’t lean too far off first base with the game on the line.
In the end, the part that really embarrassed the Mariners wasn’t that eighth-inning play in which Bay broke from first base too quickly and was an easy out at second. Instead, what really left them red-faced in this 5-3 loss in 11 innings to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday was caused by having Bay pinch-run for designated hitter Kendrys Morales in the first place.
A series of events that followed – beginning with center fielder Dustin Ackley spraining his thumb in the top of the ninth – caused the Mariners to have to play Bay in the field and forfeit their DH. And that led to the folly of pitcher Joe Saunders pinch-hitting in the 11th and making the game’s final out on a fly ball after an Alfonso Soriano home run had put Chicago ahead to stay.
“Today was just one of those fluke games,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “When you’re banged up coming in and then somebody else gets hurt and you’re trying to tie the ballgame and come back, sometimes these things happen.’’
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Michael Saunders was unavailable to play center Saturday after his finger was spiked Friday when he dived back into third base on a pickoff attempt. Saunders is day to day but his finger was lacerated and he can barely grip a bat.
So, when Ackley hurt his thumb Saturday diving for a double to left-center in the ninth, Wedge had to burn his DH, insert Bay into right field and move Endy Chavez over to center.
The crowd of 34,630 at Safeco Field reacted with bewilderment as Joe Saunders was introduced as the pinch-hitter in the 11th. But the Mariners had little choice, having depleted their bench and already using Henry Blanco as a pinch-hitter for Charlie Furbush in the bottom of the ninth with Ackley’s prior No. 8 spot due up.
Blanco wound up drawing a walk that inning and then the Mariners replaced him with Michael Saunders as a pinch-runner. Saunders took second on a ground out and scored the tying run on a single by Chavez off Cubs closer Kevin Gregg.
That got Mariners starter Aaron Harang off the hook for a loss after his eight solid innings of three-run ball. But it was not enough, as left-hander Oliver Perez gave up an infield single to lead off the 11th and then watched Soriano golf a pitch over the center-field wall.
Perez had run his scoreless innings streak to 12 before he left a fastball too low in the zone that he had wanted higher.
“Normally, you try to keep the ball down and you can be successful,’’ Perez said. “But everybody knows that Soriano is a good low-ball hitter. He just golfs the ball. And that’s what happened.’’
A fitting way to lose one of the stranger games the Mariners have played. Perez said he thought he might hit in the bottom of the inning until being told that pitcher Saunders had been chosen.
Saunders was a career .136 hitter and 0 for 2 this season in interleague play.
“I had an inkling that I was going to maybe get an at-bat,’’ Saunders said. “Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. But you’ve got to get up there and try to do your job. I was just trying to get on base.’’
The Mariners again struggled to do that against an opposing starter as Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija carried a 3-2 lead through the seventh. Samardzija gave up a home run to Justin Smoak in the second inning and then a Mike Zunino double and Ackley single that put Seattle in front 2-1.
But run-scoring singles by Nate Schierholtz and Soriano off Harang in the sixth put Chicago back in front 3-2.
The Mariners might have pulled things out in the eighth, when Morales hit a one-out single against reliever James Russell. Bay was inserted as the pinch-runner and wanted to get a good jump to avoid a double play.
“Based on the pitches before, I thought I’d seen something that led me to believe I could take it earlier,’’ Bay said. “I was wrong.’’
Russell instead threw over to first as Bay broke for second and was easily thrown out.
What made that play more frustrating was Raul Ibanez legging out a double right after that would have left runners at second and third with one out. Instead, there was a runner on second with two out when Smoak hit a single to left.
Ibanez was waved around third but the throw by left fielder Brian Bogusevic beat him to the plate to leave the Mariners scoreless in an inning when they logged three hits.
Wedge hopes to have Ackley back in a couple of days and said Michael Saunders might be able to play Sunday. For now, he has few realistic Class AAA options and will try to get by with Chavez.
“It looks like we’re going to have to,’’ Wedge said, with a shrug.
He’s used to it in a long season that keeps getting longer.