BALTIMORE – Some rare good news for long-suffering Mariners fans after this latest defeat is that the offense at least appears to be firing full-throttle.
Despite getting walloped mound-wise in an 11-8 loss Friday night to the Baltimore Orioles, the bats of Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Michael Saunders at least kept things hopeful. Alas, when you’re in a battle of long balls and the other team hits a grand slam, defeat usually results.
And in the end, even with all the early runs given up by the Mariners, it was a slam in the sixth by Nate McLouth that truly sealed Seattle’s fourth consecutive loss.
“I was opening up and the ball was going up and away instead of down and away,’’ said Mariners relief pitcher Brandon Maurer, who yielded three straight singles and the slam after coming on to work the sixth inning.
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The payoff pitch to McLouth was a two-seam fastball that stayed up over the plate instead of breaking down and away. And when that happened, the ball was sent up, up and away, as were so many others this humid night at Camden Yards
A crowd of 25,947 saw a two-run double from Adam Jones in the first inning that left fielder Raul Ibanez parlayed into a third run with a fielding error. It was 4-0 by the time the first inning ended as Mariners starter Aaron Harang battled upper-back stiffness early and had to grind to get through five innings.
Along the way, Chris Davis crushed a ball on to Eutaw Street behind right field for his major-league best 40th homer of the season. Ryan Flaherty added a solo homer off Harang to highlight a four-hit night and give Orioles starter Chris Tillman some needed wiggle room.
And Tillman would need all that space once the Mariners got their bats going, starting with a two-run homer by Saunders that cut the deficit to 4-2 in the third.
Both teams kept trading runs from there until McLouth made it 11-6 with his slam. But then Morales launched his fourth hit of the night — and 13th in four games — with a solo homer off Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth, followed by Morse’s first blast since May 27 to make it a three-run game.
“My timing was a little off, but it’s something I don’t press on,’’ Morse said of coming off the disabled list this week. “I know it will be there.’’
And Morse also believes the offense is where it should be — having scored 15 runs the past two games. The problem is, the Mariners lost both because the pitching wasn’t there.
“To me, teams are a real puzzle,’’ he said. “And once everything gets together, you start clicking and start rolling.’’
Now, it’s a matter of whether the pitching and a porous defense can recover in time to salvage a .500 season. A few too many ground balls have gotten through the infield both here and in Boston. It cost the Mariners at Fenway Park in their ninth-inning collapse Thursday when Nick Franklin couldn’t get to a single through the right side against Oliver Perez.
And it hurt here with shortstop Brad Miller again having trouble squeezing a ball, then coming up empty on diving attempts for grounders through the left side. One was on the first batter Maurer faced in the sixth, and things snowballed from there.
Interim manager Robby Thompson said he’ll discuss with Miller why he keeps bobbling balls. As for Franklin, in an 0-for-20 slump with 11 strikeouts, Thompson figures he’s about ready for a break.
But though dreams of a .500 season are quickly vanishing, there is business to take care of the final two months — other than making sure the two rookie infielders don’t burn out after helping the team’s strong July surge. The Mariners will be monitoring the hitters to see where they fit in future plans.
Saunders isn’t slumping like he was in the first half, while the Mariners say they’re weighing whether to offer extensions to Morales and Morse.
“Between him and Kyle Seager, forget about it,’’ Thompson said of Morales. “Those guys are on fire right now. But yeah, Kendrys had nine hits in the Boston series and four tonight — he’s locked in. And the other guys around him are swinging the bats, too. We did a nice job offensively tonight and put up some runs, but unfortunately we were playing catch-up all night long.’’
Part of that was Harang never getting loose before the game because of back stiffness he figures could have been caused by sleeping wrong, the charter flight Thursday, or sitting around during the 15-inning loss on Wednesday.
“After the third inning, I came in and the trainers adjusted me and I felt a lot better,’’ said Harang, adding that the stiffness is unrelated to his back issue in New York two months ago. “But that first inning killed us. When you go out there and you don’t have a feel early in the game, it’s tough.’’