Here’s the thing about rallies in baseball or in any sport: They are never just a product of the offense, even though that’s often what is most remembered.
No matter how many runs you push across, it’s meaningless if your opponent continues to keep scoring. This is the conundrum facing the Mariners because of their bullpen in this shortened 2020 season. With three experienced relievers on the injured list, and a collection of inexperienced, ineffective or inconsistent relievers remaining, the hits and runs aren’t a question of if but when.
It means a lead never feels safe and the deficit doesn’t stop growing.
The Mariners’ latest loss — an 8-4 drubbing by the Colorado Rockies to open the three-game series to close out this homestand — was another example in an early season already full of them where a comeback was made moot by a suboptimal bullpen showing.
Mariners relievers have allowed 45 runs this season in 61 2/3 innings. That total is the most in all of Major League Baseball.
“Tonight’s game got a little crazy at the end after being a well-pitched game early,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said, and will likely have to say again this season, in a postgame video media session.
The Mariners got a decent, but not dominant, start from Yusei Kikuchi and enough offense, most of it coming from Austin Nola’s two-run homer in the sixth, to be trailing 4-3 going into the seventh inning.
But Erik Swanson, who finished the sixth inning that Kikuchi started, gave up a solo homer to Garrett Hampson with two outs in the seventh inning that made it 5-3.
OK, that’s still workable.
But rookie Yohan Ramirez, who is blessed with a blazing fastball, a biting slider and only a minimal idea where either pitch is going at times, found out that All-Star left-handed hitters aren’t intimidated by “stuff.”
Charlie Blackmon crushed a solo homer to deep left-center, and Daniel Murphy smoked a two-run homer off the face of a cardboard fan in right field to push the Rockies lead to 8-3, putting the game out of reach. The cutout did not need medical attention or tape, but it did get to keep the ball as a souvenir.
“The Rockies have a very good lineup and they have power,” Servais said. “Charlie Blackmon is one of the toughest outs in the league, and he’s swinging the bat really well right now. Yohan has got a great arm. He’s a Rule 5 pick and is a young guy and doesn’t have much experience. We are going to give him the opportunity there. He does have tools to get major league hitters out, but he needs experience and innings and we are going to continue to give them to him.”
The Mariners offense, which has mostly been Kyle Lewis and Kyle Seager with random chip-ins from other players, simply isn’t equipped to overcome large deficits. So when Nola doubled to right field in the bottom of the seventh to score Lewis, it only made the loss look like slightly less of a beating.
“Austin is really prepared and has a good idea when he’s going to plate,” Servais said. “He doesn’t try to do too much. You know you are going to get a professional at-bat from him.”
Kikuchi’s official line: 5 2/3 innings pitched, four runs allowed on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
“Really happy with where Yusei is at right now,” Servais said. “He wants a little better results than what he’s getting. His final line doesn’t maybe look that great, but he threw the ball really well.”
But it seemed like he pitched better than his line indicated. He really had just two regrettable innings and didn’t give up much hard contact.
In the third, after his teammates had given him a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning on a rare Mallex Smith RBI single, Kikuchi gave up a single to Chris Owings and a double to No. 9 hitter Elias Diaz to start his problems.
Owings scored on Hampson’s ground ball to shortstop and Diaz scored on Trevor Story’s ground ball to third, sliding in easily after Seager’s throw home was a little delayed and a little high.
Kikuchi came back from that hiccup of an inning with back-to-back clean frames in the fourth and fifth. But he never could get out of that sixth inning.
With two outs and Blackmon on first, Kikuchi gave up a double to Matt Kemp to put runners on second and third and bring up Murphy, who is actually fitting of the oft-used term “professional hitter.”
Murphy hit a hard ground ball to the right side that, upon first glance, seemed like an automatic out. But the Mariners were in a shift that had second baseman Shed Long playing much closer to first base, leaving a big hole about 20 feet to the right of second base, which is where Murphy’s “well-placed ground ball” went through, scoring both runners and giving the Rockies a 4-1 lead.
“It was frustrating,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “It was kind of a lucky hit, just hit in the right spot. It was even more frustrating because if I get that out, it gives my team a better chance to come back.”