Seattle starter James Paxton allowed only three runs but his relievers failed to hold the line. Newcomer Drew Storen allowed four runs.
PITTSBURGH — Bullpen success isn’t just about protecting leads. It’s also about keeping deficits close in hope of a late rally — something the Mariners have done often this season. But Seattle’s bullpen extinguished any rally hopes in three forgettable innings of work Wednesday night.
Called on to keep their team in a 3-1 game against the Pirates and have that rally chance, the combination of Drew Storen, Nathan Karns and David Rollins proceeded to turn the game into a 10-1 rout that allowed many of the fans to head for the exits of PNC Park early to beat stadium traffic.
There was still a sizable portion of the 35,483 fans remaining to see Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole close out an efficient complete-game victory — the first of his career.
Cole pitched nine innings, giving up one run on just three hits with no walks and six strikeouts. He needed just 94 pitches, 69 of them strikes, to improve to 6-6 on the season.
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“He threw the ball really good,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I think that’s the first complete game we’ve had thrown against us all year. We ran up his pitch count in the first inning, but he got into a groove after that and they played outstanding defense. Tip your hat to him, he threw the ball well.”
Servais was correct. No pitcher had gone the distance against Seattle this season. In fact, only two starting pitchers have pitched eight complete innings against the Mariners this season.
It was a sign of how crisp Cole’s stuff was Wednesday night.
“He had good life on his fastball, and he was commanding it well,” said outfielder Norichika Aoki through his interpreter.
Aoki had two of the three hits — a pair of doubles to right field.
“He’s always been good,” Aoki said. “He just did what he usually does.”
Seattle (51-49) had a pair of runners on in the first inning, highlighted by Aoki’s leadoff double. But Cole wiggled out of the jam, throwing 20 pitches. It was the most he’d throw in an inning all evening.
The Mariners traded for Storen on Tuesday night. He arrived in Pittsburgh just in time for the pregame workout. A few hours later, he was brought on to replace starter James Paxton to start the sixth inning with Seattle trailing 3-1. Storen worked a 1-2-3 sixth, getting three easy ground-ball outs.
With Cole scheduled to hit to start the bottom of the seventh and the Mariners’ pitching spot also coming up in the top of the eighth, Servais tried to squeeze another inning out of Storen, not wanting to use Tom Wilhelmsen without a lead.
“He got through that first inning, and I was looking at where we were in our lineup,” Servais said. “I probably pushed the envelope a little too far.”
Storen gave up a leadoff single to Cole, a swinging-bunt single to Jordy Mercer, struck out David Freese and surrendered a bloop single to Andrew McCutchen to load the bases. Storen then lost a battle with Starling Marte, walking him on an appealed check swing on a 3-2 pitch to force in a run and make it 4-1.
“It’s something I don’t do all that often,” Storen admitted of the extra inning. “I made some good pitches. They got some weird hits. I thought I would get out of it.”
Servais called on Karns to get out of the bases-loaded jam. Instead, he hung his first pitch of his outing — a curveball — to Jung-Ho Kang. The Korean slugger hammered it to left for a bases-clearing double and a 7-1 lead.
“That was a big hit there that busted it open,” Servais said.
Rollins struggled in the eighth, giving up a one-out single and issuing a walk setting up McCutchen’s three-run homer to center for a 10-1 lead.
Paxton probably wasn’t going to produce another effort like his previous outing in Toronto, where he gave up one run on three hits in seven innings of work with nine strikeouts. But he certainly had a nice little rhythm going in the first two innings, allowing just one base runner and striking out three of the seven batters he faced.
That tempo was terminated thanks to a misplayed ball from Aoki in left field to start the third inning. Josh Harrison hit a soft liner to left-center that seemed like a catchable ball. Aoki tried to make a sliding grab. The ball went past his glove and in between his legs, bouncing all the way to the wall for a triple. Instead of an out, or just a single, the Mariners were forced to scramble the rest of the inning.
“It was in the lights,” Aoki said. “I kind of guessed at where it would be. I wanted to block the ball with my body so that’s why I ended up sliding. I thought I got pretty close. The ball came out of the lights at the last second.”