With the temperature dropping to 60 degrees in the eighth inning of a game Tuesday night that was over three hours old, there was the feeling of fall at T-Mobile Park.
And with almost all of the announced crowd of 19,887 standing and screaming in anticipation of every pitch from Drew Steckenrider to Kyle Schwarber in the eighth inning, it gave a different and somewhat foreign feeling of fall as in “fall baseball,” when every moment matters and the outcome could be monumental or detrimental to your season.
Trying to pitch his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out mess that partially was his own creation in a tie game, Steckenrider needed a strikeout or induce a ground ball against a proven hitter, who has played in more meaningful September games than anyone on the field.
Steckenrider had just walked pinch-hitter Travis Shaw to load the bases and fell behind 2-0 and then 3-1 to Schwarber. But an elevated fastball for a swinging strike pushed the count to full, and another fouled off fastball seemed to give Steckenrider the advantage. But with minimal command of his secondary pitches, Steckenrider fired his sixth fastball of the seven-pitch at-bat. It was supposed to be thrown to the inside half of the plate, but it leaked away.
Schwarber put a simple swing on it, sending a line drive into the gap in deep right-center field, eliciting a groan from those standing fans. The ball rolled to the wall, and all three runners scored.
Those once-screaming fans were headed for the exits, feeling the inevitable defeat. The eventual outcome — a disappointing, 8-4 loss to the Red Sox played over four hours — was made just a little worse when Alex Verdugo smoked a two-run homer off Yohan Ramirez moments later.
“Exciting game, intense game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s September baseball, and it means something. It’s fun to be a part of; unfortunately it didn’t go our way tonight.”
Seattle fell to 78-67 and dropped three games back of the Red Sox (82-65), Yankees (81-64) and Blue Jays (81-64) in the AL wild-card race. The Mariners will close out the series with Boston on Wednesday afternoon, desperate for a win with only 17 games remaining.
The fateful eighth started with Joe Smith giving up a leadoff triple to Xander Bogaerts on a deep fly ball that looked like right fielder Mitch Haniger might catch before running into the wall.
“I’ve been successful against Xander,” Smith said. “Obviously, he’s a great player. When that inning happens, especially this late in the year in the playoff race, you’ve got set the tone. You can’t give up a zero-out triple like I did.
“It just puts (Steckenrider) in a spot where he’s got to make the perfect pitches. What we saw to him tonight was not him, and it’s not how he pitches. But that’s on me. If he gets a single off me, I think it’s a different feel for the inning If I get him out, it’s obviously a different feel with as well as this bullpen’s pitched.”
With Paul Sewald unavailable due to usage, Servais went to Steckenrider.
“I don’t regret any of the pitches,” Steckenrider said. “I had to challenge them. There was some where they just had good at-bats. It’s a good team from top to bottom with a solid lineup. I just wasn’t getting any chases on anything. They were really disciplined at that point in the game.”
It wasn’t a banner night for a Mariners bullpen that has been so solid this season.
Lefty Anthony Misiewicz lost a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning when Red Sox rookie Bobby Dalbec, who was born in Seattle and lived here until high school, smoked a solo homer to right field on a low curveball.
Seattle got a solid if not lengthy start from Tyler Anderson, who pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
The Red Sox got to Anderson in the fourth inning. After not getting a couple strikes called on borderline pitches with a 1-2 count, Anderson eventually found himself with a full count against Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, he fired a fastball that caught too much of the plate. Martinez scalded the mistake, sending a line drive into The ‘Pen for a 1-0 lead.
The Mariners answered in the bottom of the inning against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi, who seemed to be cruising toward a dominant outing. After allowing a leadoff single to J.P. Crawford to start his outing, the hard-throwing right-hander retired the next nine batters, striking out six with his combination of 98- to 99-mph fastballs and nasty sliders.
Thanks to a little luck, some well-placed balls in play and the Red Sox’s abysmal defense, the Mariners were able to scratch across two runs against Eovaldi. Haniger led off with a single up the middle, and Kyle Seager produced on swinging bunt on a slider off the cap of his bat that went for a single. Ty France followed with a bloop single off the end of his bat that looped into center and allowed Haniger to race home and tie the score.
Eovaldi appeared to have his first out of the inning when Abraham Toro lifted a high fly ball to right field. Concerned with Seager tagging up and advancing, right fielder Hunter Renfroe took his eye off the ball momentarily as he went to catch it. He dropped the routine out, and the Mariners had the bases loaded.
Seattle was able to get only one more run. Jarred Kelenic struck out in an at-bat where he saw nothing but sliders, but Jake Fraley hit a deep fly ball to center that was caught at the wall and allowed Seager to tag up and score. Eovaldi then struck out Jake Bauers on his 38th pitch of the inning for the third out.
Should have they gotten more than one run out of bases loaded and no outs? Absolutely.
The Mariners have been guilty of squandering scoring opportunities on this homestand, with poor situational hitting and inability to convert with runners in scoring position.
And with only a one-run lead, Servais wasn’t afraid to go to his bullpen early when Anderson found trouble in the top of the fifth on a pair of soft singles. With Renfroe and Bogaerts coming to the plate — both right-handed hitters — Servais went to his bullpen. He brought in right-hander Casey Sadler to end the threat. Sadler struck out Renfroe and Seager made a nice stop on a hard one-hopper off Bogaerts’ bat, firing the ball to second for the inning-ending force-out.