OAKLAND, Calif. – Given the location, the flight home from the Bay Area always is the shortest one the Mariners will make all season. So, under normal circumstances, it should be the most enjoyable trip of the year.
But after Sunday, that 2 1/2 hours could feel like a cross-country trek as the Mariners collectively dwell on what transpired over the past seven days they’ve been away from Seattle. To sum it up quickly: Six games, six defeats and only a handful of times when it seemed they had a chance at victory.
Perhaps a little longer flight would allow the entirety of all that went wrong on this trip, and what was going wrong before it even started, to sink in.
A lackluster 7-1 defeat Sunday against Oakland that featured a meek effort at the plate against middling lefty Brett Anderson, a costly controversial call, a poor outing from one of their best relievers and their 59th error of the season culminated the winless road trip.
“It was a bad road trip,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said flatly. “It was different ways. Some games we didn’t pitch that well, some games we didn’t play defense that well and some games we didn’t hit. When that happens and you can’t put a full game together, you are going to have a tough road trip. And that’s what we experienced.”
Given the reactionary, social media-based world of today, the immediate response would be to lament how awful such an occurrence is for a team. But this isn’t new to Mariners’ history. This was the 10th time a Mariners team went winless on a road trip of six games or more. The most recent came July 26-Aug. 1, 2010 when they went 0-7 on a trip to Chicago and Minnesota.
Few will remember, but the 2008 Mariners, a team that lost 101 games, went winless on an 11-game road trip. But the 2011 team that lost 17 games in a row managed to avoid such a dubious honor by winning the finale of a nine-game road trip to break the streak. That team lost 95 games overall.
Is this team 101-loss or 95-loss bad? Probably not. The 13-2 start and multiple series against some very bad teams could save them from that distinction. The Mariners have only the fifth worst record in the American League and ninth worst in all of baseball. But nothing Seattle has shown the past few weeks says any sustained level of success or good play is coming.
“We have to play good baseball and we haven’t done that,” Servais said.
He wasn’t around to witness in person the game fall apart in the seventh inning after being ejected for the first time this season.
After being shut down and shut out for much of the game by Anderson, the Mariners cut into a 3-0 lead in the top of the seventh with Jay Bruce’s solo homer to right-center. Bruce’s 13th homer of the season was his third hit of the game. Tom Murphy followed with a single, which pushed Anderson out of the game. While the Mariners didn’t get another run in the inning, the hope was they could get two more runs in their final two innings, particularly with A’s closer Blake Treinen likely unavailable due to usage.
But they couldn’t maintain that two-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh and the Mariners felt a missed call at second base on a potential double play was the culprit.
Seattle starter Mike Leake issued a leadoff walk to Mark Canha and then got Jurickson Profar to hit a ground ball to first. Edwin Encarnacion tried to start a 3-6-3 double play, but the play never happened. With Canha running on the infield grass and not the baseline, Encarnacion adjusted his throw to J.P. Crawford, who was covering at second base. Crawford caught the throw, but Canha slid into him well away from the bag with his leg out and up in the air. The contact didn’t allow Crawford to make a throw to first base to complete the double play.
Leake immediately screamed at second-base umpire Bill Welke about the play, while Crawford looked around for a call to be made. Servais came on to the field to protest that Canha had violated the slide rule put into place two years ago.
“For me, I don’t think he clearly went at the bag,” Servais said. “The slide rule was put in place to protect the middle infielders. Clearly, J.P. got taken out on the play and couldn’t finish the play.”
This is the slide rule that was implemented into the MLB playbook two years ago:
Rule 6.01(i) — Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts
If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:
(1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
(2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
(3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
(4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
A runner who engages in a “bona fide slide” shall not be called for interference under this Rule 6.01, even in cases where the runner makes contact with the fielder as a consequence of a permissible slide. In addition, interference shall not be called where a runner’s contact with the fielder was caused by the fielder being positioned in (or moving into) the runner’s legal pathway to the base.
Notwithstanding the above, a slide shall not be a “bona fide slide” if a runner engages in a “roll block,” or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee or throwing his arm or his upper body.
If the umpire determines that the runner violated this Rule 6.01(j), the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter-runner out. Note, however, that if the runner has already been put out then the runner on whom the defense was attempting to make a play shall be declared out.
The Mariners felt Canha was in clear violation in multiple ways. The four umpires met for an extended period of time discussing the situation and then went to replay.
“That’s the way we’ve been taught to play the game our whole lives, play the game hard and go in hard,” Crawford said. “But I thought he deviated his base path. Eddie had to move over to throw because he deviated his path. You play the game hard, but if you make the rules, then let’s follow them.”
After a 45-second replay review, the ruling that there was no interference was upheld. Because it was a replay review there was no explanation of what they saw in New York. An angry Servais protested and argued with crew chief Mike Everitt and was ejected. MLB rules state that managers arguing a replay review will be immediately ejected.
“When you argue replay, it’s not going to go well,” Servais said. “I thought it was clear. I looked at the board up there and he did make contact and stopped him from making a play. But it didn’t go our way.”
It got worse. Leake got Ramon Laureano to pop out for what should’ve been the third out with the Mariners down 3-1. Instead with two outs, Leake walked rookie Skye Bolt and seemed less than pleased about being lifted by acting manager Manny Acta. His replacement, Roenis Elias, immediately served up a double to No. 9 hitter Josh Phegley to allow both runs to score to make it 5-1. Leake was charged with all five runs in 6 2/3 innings and took the loss to fall to 3-6. He struggled early, giving up a two-run homer to Matt Chapman in the first inning and solo homer to Phegley in the second.
Elias allowed two more runs in the eighth to complete a dismal outing to really put the game out of reach.
Leake listed “guidance in the right direction” as a key to stopping this run of bad baseball, alluding that everyone involved with the team –players and management — need to fix it.
Given the Mariners’ current direction — sinking lower and lower — it probably needs to come soon.