SAN DIEGO – Hours before the Mariners would take the field at Petco Park on Tuesday evening, Mallex Smith was alone near the wall in center field, preparing for the game.
Having played just one game in the park in his career, he wanted to make sure he got used to the area and unfamiliar surroundings. He always does some early defensive work before games as part of his preparation. But there was the added incentive of working on catches near, against and over the wall. The last scenario in particular hadn’t been as successful as he wanted in the few opportunities he’s had this season.
So for the better part of 45 minutes, Smith took fly ball after fly ball near the wall, jumping, leaping and flinging his body against it, simulating the difficult plays that are asked of a center fielder.
The practice was prescient, but it didn’t quite pay off.
In a play that encapsulated so much of the Mariners’ 6-3 loss to the Padres, Smith turned a fly ball he was seemingly ready to catch into a two-run homer.
It was just the Mariners’ third loss in 14 road games this season. And their streak of scoring five-plus runs in 13 consecutive road games came to an end. They also were held without a home run for just the second game this season.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth and the Mariners trailing 4-2, Padres catcher Austin Hedges hit a deep fly ball to center field. Initially, the ball tracked toward the center-field wall. Smith sprinted after it, believing he could make the play he practiced earlier in the day.
“I did everything right,” he said. “I had a good idea of where I was. I’d practiced it earlier today. I knew where the wall was. I timed it well. I saw the ball. I just didn’t complete the play. That’s the next step.”
At full speed and two steps onto the warning track, Smith leapt for the ball with his glove extended. It became obvious it wasn’t going to be a home run until he made it one. The ball went into his glove for a second and it looked like he was going to make a tough catch. Instead, the ball hit off the palm of his glove as he tried to close it. It flew out, carrying over the wall for a two-run homer.
“It caught me on the palm and just kind of toilet bowled out of there,” he said. “I’m not sure what I can do about that, maybe fix your glove a little bit better.”
After hitting the wall, landing on the warning track and realizing he hadn’t made the catch, Smith stayed face down on the track with his hands over his head. If he could’ve crawled into the dirt or under the turf, he might have done it.
“It’s just been the way things have been going for me,” he said.
While Jose Canseco’s infamous play of having the ball bounce off his head and over the wall for a homer will live on in infamy on blooper reels, Smith’s misplay is sure to get plenty of hits and replays on social media and highlight shows for the remainder of the season.
With a batting average that has dropped under .200, costing him his spot at the top of the order, it hasn’t been fun times for Smith in the last few weeks.
“With all things, I tell myself, ‘this too shall pass,’ ” he said. “You have great days and you have bad days. You have extended periods of great days and extended periods of bad days. It’s all temporary. It comes and goes. I’m not making history here. I’m not the first guy to go through an extended funk.”
To be fair, that play shouldn’t have happened. The Mariners were supposed to be out of the inning down just two runs, but Ryon Healy’s wayward throw to first base on a routine ground ball kept the inning going and allowed Hedges to come to the plate. It was Seattle’s second error of the game and 28th error of the season, which is far and away the most in MLB. And that’s the problem of giving away outs, it leads to increased opportunities. The Mariners have hit their way past those issues against weaker teams, but this year’s version of the Padres seems to be a little bit better than the teams Seattle has beat up on this season.
Seattle starter Erik Swanson gave his team a commendable start with one forgettable inning.
After cruising through the first inning in just 12 pitches, Swanson endured a 26-pitch second inning where he gave up five hits that led to three runs, including a two-run homer to mammoth slugger Franmil Reyes. He left some fastballs over the middle of the plate and he paid for them.
“I was happy with the way Swanson threw the ball,” manager Scott Servais said. “He should’ve got through six. But we have the error and then the crazy play with Mallex for the home run. The tack on runs created some separation.”
But showing some maturity for a pitcher making just his second big-league start, Swanson regrouped and retired 10 of the next 11 hitters he faced.
“I just tried to continue the game plan,” he said. “I attacked with (my) fastball and worked in my slider a little bit more to show them I have it. I got ahead in the count and got some outs early.”
After getting plenty of base runners against San Diego starter Nick Margevicius in the first four innings, but scoring no runs, the Mariners broke through in the fifth. Tim Beckham delivered a two-run, two-out single with the bases loaded to bring the Mariners to 3-2. However, his aggressive attempt to get an extra base resulted in an out at second, ending the inning on the bases, which is never optimal.
“It’s one of my pet peeves is that when you have a rally going like that, you hate to let the pitcher off the hook by letting him get out of the inning,” Servais said. “We haven’t played that well in San Diego here recently. We need to get it turned around tomorrow.
Reyes got to Swanson again in the sixth, hammering a solo homer over the wall in center to make it 4-2. Following the Healy error, Servais went to right-hander Cory Gearrin to face Hedges.
The Mariners had seven hits and worked six walks, but they were just 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position while stranding eight runners on the bases. But with no designated hitter, the offense was lacking.
“With no DH in there, we are going to have to find different ways to score runs,” Servais said. “For whatever reason, we haven’t played well against them. It’s been on both sides. We haven’t gotten the big hits offensively and defensively we’ve let some innings get away from us.”