It wasn't the second bit of seventh-inning fireworks that most concerned the Mariners following their latest loss. All of baseball was buzzing...
NEW YORK — It wasn’t the second bit of seventh-inning fireworks that most concerned the Mariners following their latest loss.
All of baseball was buzzing afterward about those — the stunning seventh-inning stretch announcement by pitcher Roger Clemens on a Yankee Stadium scoreboard that he’s returning to the Bronx for a second go-around in pinstripes. That got the crowd up and roaring, but it was a different set of fireworks in the top of the inning, involving a far-less-celebrated New York Yankees pitcher, that had the Mariners leaping out of their dugout seats.
They were well on their way to a 5-0 defeat when Yankees relief pitcher Scott Proctor fired a pitch near the head of batter Yuniesky Betancourt. The incident came after an apparent purpose pitch earlier by the Mariners, that one in obvious retaliation for Yankees reservist Josh Phelps ramming catcher Kenji Johjima on a fifth-inning play at the plate.
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Both dugouts and bullpens cleared after Proctor’s high pitch just missed Betancourt, but cooler heads prevailed.
“If you’re going to do something like that, do it to the lower part of the body,” said Betancourt, who took a couple of steps toward Proctor, angrily pointing his bat. “I was aware of it [the earlier incidents] but I wasn’t sure [what would happen]. I was surprised to see a ball coming at my head.”
The late-game emotions and the Clemens shocker announcement from a private stadium suite made things interesting for the 52,553 fans. Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn tried to hold their interest through most of the first five innings, but he gave up a pair of runs in the fifth. That all but sealed a game that his hitters showed few signs of being able to score in.
After notching 20 hits in Friday’s series opener, the Mariners were held to just two on Saturday and only four in this one as Yankees emergency starter Darrell Rasner recorded the victory.
Mariners @ N.Y. Yankees, 4:05 p.m., Ch. 11/KOMO 1000 AM
Pitchers: M’s Miguel Batista (3-2, 6.30) vs. Matt DeSalvo (first start)
“We got two hits yesterday and four today,” Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. “It’s tough to win games only getting four hits.”
It’s also tough to win when left fielder Raul Ibanez keeps losing fly balls in the sun and dropping them. He did that twice on Sunday, with Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu credited with doubles each time. Both eventually came around to score.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre didn’t help much either, committing a throwing error to first base on Derek Jeter’s at-bat in the seventh. Jeter later scored on the Abreu double that Ibanez dropped.
But the game was effectively over the inning before.
The game was still scoreless when seldom-used Phelps led off with a pop-fly to center that dropped between three fielders for a single. Two outs later, Washburn walked Johnny Damon — a moment the pitcher figured was the game’s turning point.
“Johnny’s a good hitter, I take nothing away from him,” Washburn said. “But I’ve got to get him in that situation. I’ve done pretty well against him in the past … but you can’t get him out if you don’t throw strikes.”
The game’s first and decisive run scored when the next batter, Jeter, drilled a single to center. Ichiro charged the ball as Phelps rounded third and threw a strike to the catcher.
Johjima crouched in front of the plate — giving Phelps a clear path — but the baserunner plowed into him anyway. The ball popped loose and a dazed Johjima lay on his back.
“I was kind of surprised because I had left the plate open for Phelps to run through,” Johjima said. “Maybe he was a little bit excited because he had a base hit.”
Phelps, a catcher throughout his minor-league career before switching to a first base, said he saw Johjima crouch down and knew Ichiro would make a strong throw.
“That’s what made my mind up,” Phelps said. “When I saw him starting to crouch down, for me, it tells me he’s getting ready to receive the ball. I can’t just let him tag me real quick.”
New York scored a second run that inning when Abreu singled to left.
Washburn came out to pitch the sixth. With two out and Matsui on second, he drilled Phelps with a pitch on the back of his shoulder.
Both Washburn and Johjima said the pitch simply “slipped” out of the pitcher’s hand, which is more than Proctor would say in “no commenting” on his near-miss of Betancourt. The Mariners “slipped” as well, back to .500 at 13-13 as they struggle to make contact with something other than an opposing hitter or baserunner.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners