Leading early by four runs and with their best starting pitcher again flashing dominance, Saturday night looked like it had the potential to be more than all right for the Mariners against the Angels in Anaheim.
But maybe typifying a season — if not a franchise history — in which nothing good ever seems to last long, the game quickly unraveled, ultimately turning into as bad a night as Seattle has had all year.
Not only did the Mariners see the Angels score 11 unanswered runs to rally for a 12-5 victory, they also experienced the unnerving sight of pitcher Yusei Kikuchi leaving in the fifth inning because of a right-knee contusion/bone bruise, just the latest incident in a season marred by injuries.
The only good news is that this injury does not appear severe.
Seattle manager Scott Servais said there was no fracture, and Kikuchi was able to put weight on the knee in the clubhouse.
“We’ll get it looked at again tomorrow, and we’ll just have to wait and see how it feels tomorrow and go from there,” Servais said. “Kind of a day-to-day thing.”
But Servais acknowledged he thought it could have been a lot worse, saying “he got smoked. … He’s going to be sore.”
The injury came in what Servais called “a rough ballgame” that was “really a tale of two ballgames.”
Indeed, Seattle had a 5-1 lead after Jake Fraley’s grand slam in the fourth and led 5-2 going into the bottom of the fifth with Kikuchi having already struck out eight.
Taylor Ward led off the inning with a single.
David Fletcher followed, and on an 0-2 pitch he hit a hard grounder that bounced maybe 30 feet in front of the plate and hit Kikuchi on the inside of the right knee. Kikuchi fell awkwardly to the ground.
The ball bounded back to catcher Jose Godoy, who threw high past first base, allowing Ward to score to make it 5-3.
But far more disconcerting was what was going on at the mound, as Kikuchi lay writhing in pain face down. He eventually turned over as trainers came to the field, placing his hat over his face in pain and frustration.
Trainers quickly got Kikuchi to his feet, but he was unable to put weight on the leg as he was helped off, adding to the immediate angst.
But Servais said the Mariners might have avoided a serious injury.
“Hopefully it is nothing serious,” he said. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”
Kikuchi has been one of the hottest pitchers in the majors of late — he entered the game with a streak of six consecutive quality starts dating to April 29, tied for the second-longest active streak in the majors — and already was just three strikeouts shy of his career high before departing.
“He was throwing the ball great and was really on top of his game,” Servais said.
The Mariners already had suffered significant losses to their roster — they used their MLB-leading 48th player Saturday — but especially their pitching staff because of injuries and can ill afford losing Kikuchi for any length of time.
Notably, James Paxton was lost for the season after throwing just 24 pitches in his first start. And opening-day starter Marco Gonzales was lost for more than a month due to an arm injury.
J.T. Chargois came on and got two quick outs before Anthony Rendon singled up the middle to drive in Fletcher and make it 5-4 entering the sixth, foreshadowing what was simply an off night for the bullpen as five relievers combined to give up 10 hits and eight runs.
“The bullpen was just not up to its normal standards,” Servais said.
The Angels took the lead in the sixth when Ward hit a two-run homer off Drew Steckenrider — who was making his first appearance since May 18 after going on the COVID-19 injured list.
That made it 6-5. The Angels got another run in the seventh to make it 7-5 and then five more in the eighth to turn it into a rout.
After Fraley’s homer, the game appeared headed to be another victory against an AL West opponent — the Mariners entered the game having gone 8-4 in their previous 12 games in what is a stretch of 14 consecutive games against AL West foes.
The Angels grabbed a 1-0 lead when Shohei Ohtani hit a one-out solo homer off Kikuchi in the bottom of the first.
After going down 1-2-3 in the first three innings, the Mariners broke out in the fourth — first gradually and then suddenly.
Seattle used a walk, bloop single to right and a hit by pitch to load the bases with one out.
Taylor Trammell then drove in the first run on a hit that bounced just a few feet in front of the plate and over the head of Angels pitcher Alex Cobb — high enough to allow for no play to be made and J.P. Crawford to race home to make it 1-1.
Fraley then fell behind 0-2 and after taking a ball on a splitter just off the plate, hit another 88-mph splitter just over the center-field wall to make it 5-1.
Cobb righted himself after Fraley’s homer, retiring the next 11 before leaving after the seventh.
Seattle had a brief chance to get back in it when Crawford led off the eighth with a double against former Mariners closer Steve Cishek.
Mitch Haniger followed with what seemed like a harmless grounder to short, but Angels shortstop Jose Iglesias, who had been activated off the 10-day IL before the game, overran the ball and it went under his glove and into left field, putting runners at first and third.
But the Angels brought on left-hander Tony Watson, who doused the fire about as quickly as possible, striking out Kyle Seager and then getting Ty France to hit into a double play.
Seattle, which fell to 29-31 and six games back of the A’s in the AL West, finished with just four hits. None was by rookie Jarred Kelenic, who received a vote of confidence from Servais before the game.
But putting a fitting capper on the night, Kelenic struck out to end the game and finished 0 for 4 for the night. He is mired in a 0-for-39 streak to see his average fall to .096.