Hisashi Iwakuma finds himself behind 4-0 after the first inning in a 5-3 loss. Seattle got a two-run homer from Kyle Seager, but left the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
It was a moment made for the new-look Mariners. A chance to announce their presence as something more than the past teams that struggled to find four runs on any given night.
Trailing by two in the bottom of the eighth, they had all the pieces in place for a magical rally to bring the 25,495 fans at Safeco Field to their feet and take the first series of the season.
Dustin Ackley led off with an infield single and Robinson Cano belted a double to the right-center gap off right-handed side-armer Joe Smith, putting runners on second and third with no outs.
With Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager scheduled to hit, a lead change seemed imminent.
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But it never came. Smith struck out Cruz, intentionally walked Seager, struck out Rickie Weeks and got Logan Morrison to fly out to end the inning and the Mariners’ victory hope.
Instead of a signature comeback, it was a 5-3 loss to the Angels and a series loss.
For Cruz, the failure to not even plate the runner from third was frustrating. Smith struck him out on four pitches, and none of them would have likely been called strikes. Manager Lloyd McClendon called it “expanding the strike zone.” And Cruz knew it.
“He threw me pitches that were probably outside the zone and I was swinging,” Cruz said. “I should be more patient in that situation.”
But like many players, who sign big contracts in the offseason to a new team, Cruz was trying to get his first big hit in a big situation.
“It doesn’t matter what situation you are in, you are trying to deliver,” he said. “New team and you want to impress. Hopefully the next game I will be in the same situation and I can deliver.”
Perhaps the inning could have been different had left-handed hitting Seth Smith been available to pinch-hit for Weeks against Joe Smith. The Angels had already used left-handed pitcher Jose Alvarez, and a Smith vs. Smith showdown would’ve been ideal for Seattle (1-2).
But Seth Smith had been bothered the past two days with groin tightness and wasn’t available.
With only right-handers on the bench available, McClendon had to stick with Weeks.
The Mariners had a chance to take starter Hisashi Iwakuma off the hook for the loss. The veteran right-hander had a less than ideal beginning to his first start of 2015. And the early lack of command looked like the Iwakuma from the end of 2014 that posted a 7.88 ERA in his final seven starts.
The Angels scored all five of their runs in the first two innings off Iwakuma, including a four-run first inning gut punch that was highlighted with a two-run homer from Albert Pujols that was hit so hard it landed in the second deck of left field.
“We didn’t help him either,” McClendon said. “There are probably a couple plays we should have made.”
Following the Pujols home run, left-handed swinging designed hitter Matt Joyce hit a ground ball to the right side into the Mariners’ overplayed shift. It appeared to be headed right for Cano, who was positioned in shallow right field. But shortstop Brad Miller, shifted all the way to the right field side of second base made a lunging attempt for the ball and it bounced off his glove for a single.
David Freese followed with a double to left field to put runners on second and third with one out. McClendon brought the infield in to try and get the run at home. It looked like Seattle would get that chance when Erick Aybar hit a ground ball to Cano. But the ball skipped under Cano’s outstretched glove and into the outfield to allow both runners to score.
The lead got pushed to 5-0 in the second inning on a sac fly from Mike Trout.
“I tried to be too perfect at times and I couldn’t get those strikes when I wanted to and I fell behind,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki.
Iwakuma was able to work his way through the next four innings without allowing a run. And after needing 50 pitches to make it through the first two innings, Iwakuma was done after six complete innings at 92 pitches.
“As a starter, it’s your duty to go as long as you can to save the bullpen,” Iwakuma said. “I’m glad I got back into my groove from the third inning on.”