When Jake Lamb launched a mammoth solo homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, sending a “sold-out” crowd of 45,586 in attendance for Ichiro Hall of Fame induction night, including Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, into a frenzy, providing a surreal moment for someone who grew up on Queen Anne and went to Mariners games as a kid, victory seemed apparent if not automatic.
In the bullpen at T-Mobile Park, Andres Munoz was warming up to face the top of the Cleveland Guardians order in the top of the eighth after the garish entrance video and music for bullpen members that debuted during this homestand.
Lamb had just provided one big run of cushion, turning a one-run game into a two-run lead.
But for the first time since July 28, the hard-throwing Munoz, the Mariners’ best reliever in the last two months, allowed a run and couldn’t hold a lead.
The Guardians scored three runs off Munoz in that eighth inning Saturday night and the Mariners offense couldn’t pick up a bullpen that had saved them from defeat so many times this season.
Cleveland reliever James Karinchak, a twitching, hair-touching, over-the-top right-hander, worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Emmanuel Clase, one of the best closers in baseball, retired Julio Rodriguez, Dylan Moore and Mitch Haniger in order in the ninth inning to secure a 4-3 Guardians victory and notch his 30th save on the season.
This was the first time this season the Mariners lost a game they were leading going into the eighth inning. They had been 51-0 in that situation.
It was a wasted opportunity for the Mariners (69-58) with the Blue Jays (68-57) and Rays (69-57) both losing earlier in the day.
“Coming in this series, you know it’s going to be tight, close, hard-fought games,” manager Scott Servais said. “Tonight we just couldn’t shut it down, which is very uncharacteristic of us. When Lamb hit that homer, I had a really good feeling that the extra insurance run was really gonna help.”
It wasn’t enough.
Munoz walked leadoff hitter Steven Kwan after home plate umpire Lance Barrett called a slider on 2-2 a ball despite it looking like a strike in person and on pitch-tracking software. The Mariners were incensed at the missed call — a recurring theme of the evening. And the anger grew as the inning unfolded.
With the leadoff runner on, Amed Rosario hit a 100 mph fastball off the end of the bat for a bloop single to right, bringing Jose Ramirez to the plate.
The switch-hitting stalwart ripped a 102-mph fastball into left field for a double that scored a run. From there, a ground ball to first scored Rosario with the tying run and a sac fly to deep center scored Ramirez to give the Guardians the lead.
“I know people get tired of me saying, ‘That’s baseball,’ but it happens once in a while,” Servais said. “They put the bat on the ball. Those guys get paid to hit over there, too. And like I said, credit to them. I think Andres has as good of stuff as anyone. They found some holes tonight and they put an ending together. That’s what it was going to take for coming back in the game and they got it done.”
Servais watched as Ty France got ejected in the bottom of the fifth inning by Barrett for arguing with Barrett about his strike zone. The Mariners also felt J.P. Crawford had worked a walk in the eighth inning with two outs on a 3-1 pitch that would’ve brought Julio Rodriguez to the plate as the winning run. Instead it was called a strike and Crawford grounded out to first on the 3-2 count.
“One pitch can affect the game,” Servais said. “We talk about that all the time with our guys and you gotta keep fighting, keep battling. I haven’t watched the game on video yet. I’ve heard about it. There was a lot of very close calls tonight that probably didn’t go our way, but they are not going to change it now. It’s over. We’re going to move forward.”
For France, it added another level of frustration to a month worth of them.
“It kind of seems like when one thing is going bad, it seems like it’s all going bad,” France said. “I thought I was just having a normal conversation and it went the other way. All I said was, all three strikes he called were balls. And he asked me what I said, so I repeated that and he ejected me from there.”
After an atypical performance in his last outing where he allowed four runs on eight hits, Luis Castillo delivered a scintillating performance against a team that he’s struggled against in his career.
Using a deft four-pitch mix, Castillo pitched six innings, allowing one run on four hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts. Of his 115 pitches, 85 were strikes, including 21 swings and misses. The 10 punchouts were impressive considering the Guardians came into the game striking out in just 18.3% of their plate appearances.
Castillo had also struggled against Cleveland in four previous outings, including two last season. In two starts in 2021, he gave up 14 runs (12 earned) on 12 hits with five walks and only four strikeouts.
Cleveland starter Zach Plesac turned in an equally strong performance — working seven innings, allowing three runs on three hits — all solo homers — with no walks and six strikeouts.
The Mariners provided Castillo with the first two solo homers off Plesac as run support while he was in the game.
Eugenio Suarez crushed a solo homer off the facing of the upper deck in left-center for his team-high 24th homer in the second inning. It was Suarez’s 10th time facing Plesac in his career and both of his hits off him were homers.
In the third inning, Rodriguez, who became a much wealthier baseball player over the previous 24 hours, launched a towering fly ball to left field that carried over the wall for his 21st homer of the season and a 2-0 lead.
Cleveland got a run back in the fourth inning when Jose Ramirez hammered a low changeup on an 0-1 count deep into the right-field seats for his 26th homer of the season.
Castillo made that 2-1 lead hold up for the rest of his start and turned it over to the bullpen, which is normally an automatic win.
Diego Castillo worked a scoreless seventh against the bottom of Cleveland’s order with Munoz slated to face the top of it.
“Every day is not a party,” Castillo said through interpreter Freddie Llanos. “Sometimes you get good days, sometimes you get bad days and I’ve got full confidence in the bullpen every time I go out there. They’ve got my back. Sometimes, it’s just baseball.”