The look was a mixture of dejection and disgust as he watched the ball rocket toward the right-field seats.
Brandon Brennan, the Mariners’ best reliever this season, had thrown his best pitch — the sinking changeup – only to have it betray him in the worst possible way. Instead of diving low and away from the barrel of burly Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber, it stayed in the middle of the plate, just asking to be crushed. And it was – a two-run eighth-inning homer that proved to be the difference in the Mariners’ 6-5 loss Tuesday night to the Cubs.
The moment the ball left Schwarber’s barrel, Brennan knew the result as did the crowd of 27,545 at T-Mobile Park, more than half of which were Cubs fans.
“I’m pretty sure everyone in the stadium knew that ball was gone off the bat,” Brennan said.
Brought in with two outs in the seventh inning of a tie game with the go-ahead run, Brennan struck out Javy Baez using that nasty changeup to keep him totally off balance.
But in the eighth, he allowed a two-out double to Willson Contreras and it brought Schwarber to the plate. Brennan wasn’t afraid of the matchup of facing the lefty.
“Left, right, whatever you want to throw in the box, there’s nobody I’m scared to face by any means,” he said.
With lefty Zac Rosscup already used earlier in the game and fellow lefty Roenis Elias unavailable due to some arm tenderness, manager Scott Servais stayed with Brennan.
“Brennan has been awesome,” Servais said. “He’s off to a great start for us. He gets the two quick outs in the eighth. Contreras jumps on the first pitch for a double. We’d done a pretty good job against Schwarber all night. He just left a changeup in a bad spot and Schwarber was all over it.”
So much so that Brennan admitted Schwarber was looking for it after throwing a first pitch changeup that was low for a ball.
“I was just trying to put it down instead of letting it go right down the middle,” Brennan said. “He was definitely sitting on it and got a pretty good piece of it.”
Brennan, a Rule 5 draft pick this offseason, has seen his responsibility elevated with each successful outing. He came into the game with a 1.06 ERA in 14 appearances with 19 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched. A rookie at age 27, he understood the consequences of one missed location.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “They are big league hitters for a reason. They are here doing their job. I’m going to get beat sometimes. I’m going to beat them sometimes. It’s part of the game — the give and take. I lost this one. I will help win us the next one.”
The Mariners had a chance for a rally in the ninth against old friend and teammate Steve Cishek. Domingo Santana reached on broken bat infield single and Edwin Encarnacion walked to put the tying and winning run on base with no outs. But Tim Beckham hit into a 4-6-3 double play and Jay Bruce struck out looking to end the game.
“We had some chances late,” Servais said. “But you have to give them credit, their shortstop (Baez) can turn some double plays. He’s got some kind of arm. He’s a difference maker in that kind of game.”
It was Seattle’s third straight loss to fall to 18-14.
Seattle got a solid if not dominant start from Felix Hernandez. Coming off a brilliant performance in his previous outing, Hernandez wasn’t quite as crisp. But he was still mostly effective, pitching six innings and allowing four runs on eight hits with a walk and eight strikeouts.
“He gave us a chance and kept us in the ball game,” Servais said. “They touched him for a few runs and overall I thought he competed very well. He continues to throw the ball well.”
Hernandez really only made two big mistake pitches.
His second pitch of the game – a get-me-over sinker on the bottom part of the strike zone, but over the middle of the plate – was crushed by Daniel Descalso for a leadoff homer into right-center.
The Cubs pushed the lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning. David Bote led off with a single. With two outs, Hernandez walked Schwarber on a pair of borderline pitches and then gave up a RBI single to Albert Almora.
After giving outs and runs away with shoddy defense in their previous two games, the Mariners benefited from another team’s fielding woes. Seattle scored three runs in the second inning with only one ball leaving the infield. Encarnacion led off with a walk and Beckham followed with a single to left. Bruce drove in Encarnacion with a ground ball to second to trim the lead to 2-1.
Seattle tied the score when Bote booted, almost literally, a hard ground ball off the bat of Braden Bishop that allowed Beckham to score.
The fielding woes for the Cubs continued. Dee Gordon hit a soft ground ball that shortstop Baez charged and made hurried and possibly ill-advised attempt to throw to first base. Even if his throw had been accurate, it appeared Gordon would beat out. The throw wasn’t accurate, sailing wide of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, allowing Omar Narvaez to score on the play for a 3-2 lead.
“We got some help,” Servais said. “They made some errors early in the ballgame and we took advantage of it.”
The lead was short-lived. Hernandez gave up a double to Kris Bryant to start the fifth inning and then left a 3-1 sinker up in the zone to Rizzo that was deposited into the beer-soaked confines of The ‘Pen for a two-run homer and a 4-3 lead.
“That was on me, that was my fault,” Hernandez said. “I fell behind and I should’ve put him on first. I tried to go fastball away and I missed my spot. It was up. And he stands on top of the plate, so it was like down the middle for him.”
The Mariners answered in the bottom of the sixth, knocking Chicago starter Cole Hamels out of the game. Ryon Healy led off with a double and later scored on Gordon’s one-out line drive single to right to tie the score at 4-4.
Seattle grabbed a brief 5-4 lead in the seventh when Encarnacion smashed his eighth homer of the season, sending a solo blast off the signage above the visitors’ bullpen.