The Mariners' three-game winning streak, extended with a stirring ninth-inning rally the previous night, was snapped with a 6-4 defeat at Safeco Field.
Going up against the esteemed Justin Verlander, the Mariners had little margin for error Tuesday. And they seemed to use it all up in the first two innings as Kevin Millwood was rocked for five runs.
Yet the Mariners still found themselves on the verge of another miracle finish in the ninth inning, while facing the Tigers’ lockdown closer, Jose Valverde. This time, however, Jesus Montero fouled out with the bases loaded to end it, and the Tigers held on for a 6-4 victory at Safeco Field.
“We were down early to one of the better pitchers in the league, and our guys didn’t give in at all,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I was really pleased with the way they battled through at-bats, made their guy work, and got themselves back in the ballgame.”
A night earlier, the Mariners had scored three in the ninth to steal a 3-2 victory, forged by the wildness of reliever Octavio Dotel. When Valverde walked the first two batters in the ninth, it seemed like the crowd of 13,455 might be about to witness a repeat rally.
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But Dustin Ackley, called upon to bunt the runners over, couldn’t get it down on Valverde’s first two pitches, then struck out on the third.
“That’s the momentum-killer,” Ackley said, expressing frustration over his inability to execute the sacrifice. “You have to move the guys over. With Brendan (Ryan) and Ichiro swinging well, you figure one was going to get a hit and tie it up. It was real frustrating not to move the guys over.”
Ryan, with two hits already in the game, grounded to short for what looked to be a game-ending double play. But the Mariners clung to life when Prince Fielder couldn’t hang onto the throw at first.
That brought up Ichiro, and when Ryan stole second on a pitch that brought the count to 2-1, the Tigers elected to walk Ichiro intentionally to face Montero, who had burned them with a big ninth-inning double the night before.
Montero worked the count to 2-2 before slicing a foul down the right-field line. Don Kelly made an outstanding play, snagging the ball as he crashed into the stands.
Explaining his decision to call for the bunt with Ackley up, Wedge said: “It’s not automatic, but it depends on how the hitter’s swinging. In that situation, we’re looking to get Ichiro and potentially Montero at the plate. Eventually, they both got up there. Ryan had a couple of hits, he had seen Valverde eight times, had a couple of knocks off him in the past.
“We just weren’t able to finish it off. But we did everything to give us every opportunity to win that game. We were just one hit short, and even Jesus put up a heck of an at-bat there.”
Millwood settled down after his rocky start to work into the fifth, holding the Tigers scoreless over the final three. But the damage had been done, as Detroit had seven hits and three walks in the first two frames to jump up 5-0.
“I wasn’t making the pitches,” Millwood said. “I left a few balls up. I thought I made a couple of pretty good pitches they hit. It came down to one inning again. The second seemed to be that inning. I was able to battle through the next three and at least not make it any worse.”
Wedge said he didn’t have the option of pulling Millwood because the Seattle bullpen was depleted.
“We didn’t have enough arms to get us through. We really needed Kevin to step up and stay in there. Not only did he stay in there, he shut them down the final three innings.”
Millwood, however, dropped to 0-4 with a 5.88 earned-run average after six starts.
Verlander, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, made it through at least six innings for the 49th time in a row, and won his 12th consecutive decision on the road. Verlander worked seven innings, giving up seven hits and three runs while striking out six, to raise his record to 3-1.
His manager, Jim Leyland, didn’t make it through three innings, however. He got tossed by home-plate umpire Brian Knight in the third for arguing balls and strikes. Verlander also expressed frustration with the strike zone that inning.
“Yeah, I think he was a little frustrated,” Leyland said. “I’ll make this simple: I just wasn’t happy with the strike zone and let him know it, and he let me know where to go.”
The Mariners broke through in the third against Verlander. With one out, Ackley, Ryan and Ichiro bunched singles for one run. After Montero grounded out, Kyle Seager singled to center for two more runs. Twelve of Seager’s team-leading 19 RBI have come with two outs.
The Tigers extended their lead to 6-3 in the seventh when Fielder launched a long homer to right, his fifth.
The Mariners got one back in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Ryan.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry