Almost wasn’t enough.
That was especially true in the top of the fourth inning of the Mariners’ 7-1 loss Friday, when the Minnesota Twins laced four consecutive singles and scored a pair of runs.
Left fielder Marwin Gonzalez led off the inning by shooting a Marco Gonzales 74 mph curveball up the middle for a single, past diving shortstop J.P. Crawford — who, to his credit, almost got there. The next hitter, first baseman C.J. Cron, lined a solid single to center; Mariners outfielder Mallex Smith almost caught it, but slammed on the brakes instead.
With runners on first and second, Twins catcher Willians Astudillo cued a curveball off the end of his bat and into right field, past a diving Dee Gordon — who almost corralled it, despite the shift. Right fielder Max Kepler promptly brought Gonzalez home with a single of his own, shooting a line drive into shallow center. (Smith almost arrived in time, but again stopped short.)
Or take the next inning, if you’re in need of another example. With one out and the bases loaded, Astudillo served a fly ball into shallow left. While Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco tagged up, Santana made the catch, reared back and uncorked a one-hop laser to Mariners catcher Tom Murphy. Murphy tagged Polanco as he slid into home plate.
But he didn’t have the ball, which had hit his glove and bounced harmlessly to the backstop.
The next hitter, Kepler, again singled to center — scoring two more Twins.
Marco Gonzales almost escaped the inning unscathed. Instead, Minnesota (29-15) scored three more runs to take an ultimately insurmountable 6-0 lead.
“I think they strung a couple timely hits together,” Gonzales said. “There were some ground balls that found some holes. I felt like overall they were making some adjustments, being a little more aggressive earlier in the count (the second time through the order). Leaving some pitches up in the zone, that was a deadly combination there.”
“Almost” applied to the Mariners’ inconsistent offense as well. In the bottom of the first inning, after Mitch Haniger drew a one-out walk, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion drove an 0-2 fastball into the gap in right center. As Haniger approached third, the ball hit hard off the warning track and caromed over the wall for a run-saving ground-rule double. Twins pitcher Martin Perez promptly struck out Domingo Santana and Ryon Healy to strand Encarnacion and Haniger on second and third.
In other words, the Mariners almost scored. Instead, they came up empty.
“We had some chances early on,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The situational hitting wasn’t quite on tonight.”
The Mariners finally got on the board in the fifth, when Encarnacion lined a single off a leaping Polanco’s glove at shortstop and the speedy Gordon scored from second base. But Seattle (22-25) left two runners on base in the inning and eight in the game. Servais’ club was just 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. That’s far too many almosts for a scuffling Mariners offense.
But, alas, the almosts weren’t everything. Twins third baseman Ehire Adrianza also led off the scoring with a solo homer on the first pitch of the third inning that was nowhere close to being caught. Adrianza added a sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field in the fourth.
Gonzales (5-3) barely made it through five innings Friday, surrendering eight hits and six runs (five earned) with two walks and three strikeouts to take the loss. Perez (6-1) was more impressive, scattering five hits and one earned run over 6.2 strong innings.
“Martin Perez was really on top of his game,” Servais said. “(His cutter in on right-handed hitters) is a very effective pitch. He’s throwing harder probably than he has at certain points in his career. So he did a good job. He executed very well. He didn’t give in with his changeup, and that was kind of the story tonight.”
Though the game was essentially out of reach, the Mariners’ much maligned bullpen held Minnesota at bay. Austin Adams did not allow a hit and struck out four in two scoreless innings. Matt Festa surrendered two hits and one earned run in two innings of his own, though the lone score came via a Jonathan Schoop double that a sliding Smith almost caught.
“I thought there were some really good things tonight out of our bullpen,” Servais said. “Austin Adams was outstanding. Obviously he’s pretty new to the organization, new to us. He’s got a really, really good slider. It was nice to see how he’s going about attacking it.
“I thought Matt Festa threw the ball really well. It was probably the best outing I’ve ever seen Matt Festa have. He’s added some things to his game, so a couple bright spots there and guys who can really help in our bullpen down the road.”
If you’re searching for more bright spots, Encarnacion’s first inning double was the 350th of his 15-year career, while Gordon also scored his 500th career run.
Friday’s game was good for two things — near-misses and milestones.