For the first four innings, it seemed like the Mariners would be celebrating the return of Marco Gonzales to the starting rotation, the improvements made by Taylor Trammell in Class AAA Tacoma and a sixth consecutive victory.
But the Mariners’ bullpen suffered through an interminable six-run seventh inning making a short-sleeve perfect Tuesday evening at T-Mobile Park uncomfortable for the bulk of the Mariners fans in attendance.
It turned Seattle’s two-run lead into a four-run deficit and an eventual 12-6 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
How bad did it get? In the ninth, with reliever Will Vest getting knocked around the yard, manager Scott Servais called on infielder Jack Mayfield to finish the inning. Mayfield threw a 55-mph curveball that got Mark Canha to ground into a force out and end the pummeling.
He was the only reliever not to give up a base runner or run in the game. The bullpen gave up 11 runs on 11 hits with five walks and three strikeouts.
After the bullpen endured a COVID-19-testing/contact-tracing circus on the previous road trip and flourished despite the absences of Vest (who rejoined the team Sunday), Drew Steckenrider and Kendall Graveman (who both are still quarantining in San Diego), it finally fell apart.
The Mariners’ five-game winning streak ended, and they fell back to .500 at 28-28 while the A’s improved to 32-25.
It took three pitchers — right-handers Hector Santiago and Paul Sewald and lefty Daniel Zamora — to record the three outs in that seventh inning. They combined to face 10 batters with the struggling Matt Chapman making the first and final out.
“We were in a pretty good spot there but just couldn’t get that final out in the seventh,” Servais said. “They hit some balls in some spots. When you’re going through a really good streak like we have been, we’re making all those plays and the balls are hit right at us. Tonight they found some holes; you got to give him credit. They put the bat on the ball, and we just couldn’t get out of the seventh.”
Santiago, 33, was making his Mariners debut, serving as long relief for Gonzales’ shortened start. Given a 4-1 lead, he allowed a run in the fifth, worked a scoreless sixth and gave up another run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly to Tony Kemp.
“Hector Santiago did exactly what we hoped he would,” Servais said. “He was throwing the ball well but got in some trouble with some traffic on the bases.”
With two outs, Sewald was called upon to get the final out of the inning with a runner on third and two right-handed hitters, Canha and Chad Pinder, up next in the A’s order.
Sewald had been a pleasant surprise since being called up. Relying primarily on his slider, he had not allowed a run in his previous four appearances — a total of six innings.
But of his 20 pitches he threw just nine strikes. He gave up an infield single to Canha just out of the reach of third baseman Kyle Seager and shortstop J.P. Crawford that tied the score at 4, then walked the next two batters to load the bases.
Servais went to Zamora to face the left-handed hitting Olson. It didn’t go as planned, with Olson blooping a pitch into right field for a two-run single. Sean Murphy followed with a double to left on a pitch at his ankles to score two more runs.
It only got worse. Zamora gave up two more runs in the eighth, and Vest was rocked in the ninth.
Scheduled to pitch three innings in a start to build his pitch count, Gonzales gave Seattle four innings, allowing one run on two hits with a walk and six strikeouts. A 1-2-3 first inning that required only 10 pitches allowed him to get that extra inning.
He pitched with rhythm, confidence and efficiency, exhibiting minimal rust from the layoff on the injured list.
“I was anxious for sure,” he said. “It’s tough watching and spending a few weeks on the on the IL. It can certainly give you some perspective. It was nice to get back out there and compete, for sure.”
Of his pitches, 33 were strikes with six swings and misses. He relied heavily on his four-seam fastball and sinker, throwing them a combined 28 times and getting 20 strikes on it.
“I felt confident in the bullpen and in warm-ups, and we were on the right page,” he said. “My rhythm and timing felt good. Really I just wanted to go out and attack the zone.”
His only blemish came in the second inning when Olson drove a 1-0 sinker that was low in the strike zone over the left-field fence for his 14th homer of the season.
“I thought Marco looked great, really sharp and good command,” Servais said. “His stuff was good. He had about six strikeouts tonight, so exactly what we were hoping for. We’ve missed him, there’s no question about it. He was going to have a shorter leash tonight. It’s great to get him up to 50 pitches. He can build on that next time out.”
The Mariners answered with three runs in the third inning, all with two outs off A’s starter Chris Bassitt. Crawford singled and stole second, and Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager and Ty France all followed with RBI doubles to make it 3-1.
Trammell made it 4-1, smashing a solo homer to deep right-center in the fourth inning.
Gonzales was placed on the 10-day injured list because of a strained left forearm April 28 after a start in Houston.
After battling injuries early in his career with the Cardinals, Gonzales has prided himself in his durability. So a stint on the injured list, even because of a minor strain, was an irritant. But what made it even more galling was the interruption of a solid stretch after a shaky start to the season.
After posting a 10.45 ERA in his first two starts, allowing 12 runs, 17 hits, including five homers in his first two starts, Gonzales had a 2.50 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched over his next three starts, despite going 1-2.
He was starting to get back to his typical form, and then came the tightness in the forearm. But the Mariners hope this is a sign that he will get there quickly.
It also means Seattle can scrap the bullpen starts, which no one prefers to use, and have healthy starters for all six spots in its rotation for the first time since he suffered the injury.