The Mariners scored seven runs against Reds relievers to turn a 3-1 deficit into an 8-3 rout.
CINCINNATI — Sure, the Mariners should have scored more than one run in the first six innings. They had numerous opportunities, but bad at-bats and bad luck limited the Mariners to just one run and put them in a 3-1 deficit.
But about the time the rain returned Friday night to an already-saturated Great American Ball Park and it looked like the Mariners might somehow lose to the lowly Reds, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price was forced to go to his woeful bullpen.
And only good things came from that change for Seattle.
Like so often this season for the Reds, the hope of victory was destroyed by a bullpen that gives up free base runners, serves up homers and can’t avoid allowing runs.
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More than aware of the past issues, the Mariners took advantage of that ineptness, scoring seven runs in three innings against Reds relievers to turn the two-run deficit into an easy 8-3 rout of a win. With the victory, Seattle improved to 24-17 and 16-7 on the road.
“They’ve struggled, no doubt,” manager Scott Servais said. “You are looking at scouting reports and they’ve got a lot of injuries over there. I was just concerned about our club keeping it close and giving ourselves a chance late. Our guys usually find a way to have good at-bats and put an inning together.”
Forget the awful Mariners bullpen of 1996 featuring Bobby Ayala or the M’s recent bullpen misery of 2013 and 2015. This Reds bullpen is worse, falling toward historically bad. At one point this season, the group allowed at least one run in a major-league-record 23 straight games.
After giving up seven runs and six hits and a pair of homers in the Mariners’ comeback, Reds relievers have now allowed 117 runs in 1552/3 innings for a 6.76 ERA. They have given up 168 hits, 36 homers and 81 walks while blowing 10 saves in 14 chances.
“That was the plan,” Nelson Cruz said. “We know they struggle with the bullpen. So as a team we have to get to that bullpen. We have to make sure we get the starter out of the game early so we can go and face that bullpen.”
Seattle would have preferred to get Reds starter Dan Straily out of the game earlier. They mustered just one run against Straily, going scoreless in the first five innings and trailing 3-0. He hit Robinson Cano with a pitch to start the sixth inning. After missing a home run with a fly ball just outside the right-field foul pole, Kyle Seager hit a ground ball down the first-base line into the right-field corner to score Cano from first to cut the lead to 3-1. It looked as if the Mariners would add another run when Adam Lind hit a laser into the gap in left-center.
But Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton, blessed with sprinter’s speed, covered an enormous amount of ground and made a brilliant diving catch on the warning track to rob Lind of an extra-base hit and sure RBI.
“That was impressive,” said fellow center fielder Leonys Martin. “Nobody even thought he would make the play.”
But with Straily’s pitch count at 110, Price had to go to his maligned group of relievers for the final three innings. Their first inning summed up the struggles of the season.
Right-hander Blake Wood started the seventh by giving up a single Martin. Pinch-hitter Norichiki Aoki followed with a single to left with Martin running on the play, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Wood then walked Ketel Marte to load the bases and then walked Seth Smith on five pitches to force in a run and make it 3-2.
Price then played the lefty-on-lefty matchup by bringing in Tony Cingrani to face the red-hot Robinson Cano. In the first pitch of the at-bat, Cingrani hit Cano in the elbow guard to force the tying run across.
Improbably, Cingrani came back to strike out Cruz and Kyle Seager. With two outs and Lind scheduled to hit, Servais called on right-handed hitting Dae-Ho Lee. The big Korean delivered in the clutch, slicing a line drive into right field for a single that scored two runs.
“I was waiting for a fastball, and it was a fastball,” Lee said through his interpreter. “I just went with the ball.”
The inning ended when Lee got picked off and Cano was thrown out at home trying to score as Lee was hung up between first and second.
But the Mariners continued to add runs, picking up a run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly from Marte and two more in the ninth on solo homers from Cruz and Lee. It was Cruz’s 250th homer of his career.
“I didn’t even know till they told me,” he said.
The seventh-inning rally salvaged a win for Hisashi Iwakuma, who fought the delayed start and mechanical issues to improve to 2-4. He worked six innings, allowing three runs on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
“I didn’t have too much time to get ready and it kind of threw off my routine,” Iwakuma said through his interpreter, Antony Suzuki. “I was fighting my command early on. I was going side to side instead of top to bottom and I couldn’t keep the ball down in the zone. But I made the adjustment toward the end.”
Unlike Cincinnati, Seattle got three innings of scoreless relief from its bullpen with Mike Montgomery, Nick Vincent and Joel Peralta each working run-free frames.