ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A routine pop-up behind second base isn’t always that when young infielders are still getting a taste of life in the majors.
And the Mariners found out the hard way once again in the fifth inning of a 7-1 loss Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Rays as second baseman Nick Franklin got crossed up with shortstop Brad Miller.
A ball dropped between them for a hit, and two hits later Mariners starter Joe Saunders had given up four runs in the inning. The repercussions of the missed play could be felt throughout a silent visitors’ clubhouse in the aftermath of another series that slipped away.
“The ball was, I think, right at me and I just called it,’’ Franklin said of the Sean Rodriguez blooper. “It was just a miscommunication. It happened.’’
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Miller said of the play: “It was just a little miscommunication, but you’ve got to have that one.’’
Both players said they called for the ball initially, but Franklin was the more demonstrative – waving his arms with authority.
“I guess he broke on it pretty good and when I looked, he was kind of camped under it,’’ Miller said. “And then I was like ‘Dang! Why’d I call it?’ And then we both backed off.’’
Wil Myers followed by drilling a two-run double. Evan Longoria then launched a two-run homer to make it 5-1, and the Mariners were never in it again.
Saunders was lifted one out into the fifth and was clearly frustrated afterward by the missed pop-up.
“That was just one of those turning points in the game where a half-inning before we had the bases loaded and they struck a guy out and (it) gave them momentum. Then we give it right back to them. It was just hard to recover from that. That was pretty much the turning point in the game.”
Franklin came up with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth with the score tied 1-1. He worked the count full against Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, then struck out for the third time in the game on a changeup that caught him off-guard.
Franklin later singled, but his team was already down five runs by then.
Raul Ibanez did the only Seattle damage on the scoreboard with a solo homer to right field off Cobb in the second. It was the first home run for Ibanez in 90 plate appearances since July 12.
Ibanez has 25 home runs, making him the first Mariners hitter to reach that mark since Russell Branyan in 2009. He is also four home runs behind Ted Williams for the most by a player in the season they turned 41.
Ibanez entered the night hitting just .187 with no home runs and an on-base-plus slugging mark of .496 since the All-Star break.
Ibanez admitted that the break really didn’t help him.
“You know, after the break, obviously, I haven’t really felt great,’’ he said. “Those days off, I don’t know that they treated me well. They treated some guys well, but didn’t treat me very well. But as of late, I think I’ve been putting together better at-bats. I’m swinging the bat a little better.’’
Mariners interim manager Robby Thompson, who also doubles as the team’s infield coach, wasn’t happy with the missed pop-up.
“I think he called for it first,’’ Thompson said of Franklin. “But then maybe Brad (Miller) called for it. But the ball’s got to be caught. For me, Nick’s got to go after that ball. That’s his ball and he’s got to call him off and make the play. And if Brad does call for it, you’d better be sure that he catches it. But that ball’s got to be caught.’’
The Mariners have ridden the bats of their two middle infielders through some winning stretches. But lately, fielding mistakes have cropped up and tested the patience of those charged with getting this team back to .500.
Now, at 10 games under, that goal is steadily slipping ever-farther away.
“It was addressed, and it will be talked about again tomorrow,’’ Thompson said.
“Those plays, up here, I know they’re growing pains in young players. But that ball’s got to be caught. And they know it. And hopefully, they’ll learn from it and it won’t happen again.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners. Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com