The seething anger at himself and his performance could no longer be contained in Chris Flexen. It had been building with every missed location, every pitch that wasn’t executed and every baserunner.
On any night, these sorts of struggles on the mound stir the rage monster inside of him, which is why his teammates often refer to him as The Hulk. But on this warm summer night in September, with every outcome critical to keeping the Mariners in a postseason race that nobody expected, well, this was unacceptable to the point of eruption.
When he finally ended the misery of what would be a game-deciding fourth inning, having lost a one-run lead by allowing four runs, Flexen delivered a cruel tongue-lashing to himself as he stalked off the mound at T-Mobile Park. A merciless self-critic when he doesn’t perform up to his expectations, his harsh words to himself were indicative of the elevated stakes and his disappointment in not rising to them.
The Mariners’ most consistent starting pitcher struggled through his worst outing since July, and his teammates couldn’t overcome it in a disappointing 7-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Very disappointing,” Flexen said later. “We’re out here competing. It’s a 2-1 ball game at the time, and the fourth inning just got away from me. A lack of execution — I missed middle a lot. And that’s what they’re supposed to do with those pitches. It was very poor job by me.”
Flexen made it through five innings, allowing five runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts to take the loss. It was the first time he was charged with a loss since July 27 against the Astros. And the five runs allowed were the most he’d given up in an outing since that same game vs. Houston.
A loss to the worst team in the National League is less than ideal, but it was more costly when the three teams ahead of the Mariners in the race for the two American League wild-card spots picked up victories causing the Mariners (77-65) to lose ground in the race.
“Not our best game tonight,” manager Scott Servais said. “We didn’t get a ton of hits and runs in scoring position tonight. And they put a big crooked number up on us in the fourth inning, which hurt a little bit. Unfortunately, these games happen. I know we want to win every game here down the stretch. But realistically, that’s tough to do. It’s probably not gonna happen. So we’ve got to come back at it tomorrow, and we’ve got to win the series.”
The Blue Jays actually picked up two wins Saturday. Playing at Camden Yards, they swept a doubleheader of two seven-inning games vs. the abysmal Orioles. Toronto trailed going into the top of the seventh in both games, overcoming a three-run deficit for an 11-10 victory in the first game and then unleashing 11 runs in the top of the seventh in the nightcap to turn a 1-0 deficit into an 11-2 win.
The Yankees (79-63) rallied for an 8-7 win over the Mets to improve to 79-63 while the Red Sox (81-63) outlasted the White Sox in extra inning for a 9-8 win.
Boston leads the wild card by a game over the Yankees and Blue Jays. The Mariners dropped to two games back of the second wild-card spot along with the A’s, who lost to the Rangers.
It was a sign that it might be a battle for Flexen when he walked Ketel Marte with one out in the first inning and later walked Carson Kelly with two outs. Those free passes would prove costly as veteran left-handed hitter David Peralta pulled a misplaced cutter on a 2-2 count for a RBI single into right field.
Arizona’s lead lasted for all of two batters in the bottom of the inning. Facing Arizona starter Humberto Castellanos, J.P. Crawford led off with a single and Mitch Haniger cracked his 31st homer of the season, crushing a 3-1 fastball off the manual scoreboard in left field for a 2-1 lead.
Given the lead, Flexen came back to work 1-2-3 frames in the second and third inning. But his outing fell apart in the top of the fourth.
He gave up four consecutive hits to start the inning:
- A leadoff single by Kelly.
- Double to center by Peralta.
- A run-scoring single by Pavin Smith.
- Line-drive RBI single to left by Seth Beer.
The Mariners got a break on Nick Ahmed’s flyout to left with Jose Marmolejos throwing out Smith at third as he tried to tag up from second base and advance.
But Daulton Varsho made it 5-2, turning a lifeless 1-0 fastball down the middle into a two-run homer into the right-field seats.
Servais wasn’t thrilled with Flexen’s pitch mix. While the right-hander’s fastball had some life and a little extra velocity, it got him away from the changeup, which he needs against lefties, and his cutter. Of his 79 pitches, 42 were fastballs.
“Flex is at his best when he’s mixing all of his pitches,” Servais said. “And I do think sometimes when those nights where you maybe have a little bit more juice behind the fastball, at times you can get away from being your best version of yourself. His best version, in my opinion, is when the changeup is going and he’s working in the cutter.”
The Mariners other run came in the bottom of the fourth inning when Jarred Kelenic hit his ninth homer of the season, sending a towering blast into The ‘Pen area in deep left-center.
Seattle also didn’t help itself by going hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position and stranding six runners.