OAKLAND, Calif. — The road trip started with a disappointing series loss against a team they’ve dominated the past three seasons, and it ended in the cloudless Sunday sunshine of the Bay Area with another series loss against a team they’ve owned for the past two seasons.
For all of their success since mid-June, pushing them into this position in the standings and, of course, having the easiest remaining schedule in baseball, the Mariners’ quest to end a 21-year postseason drought isn’t going to be handed to them — even with an extra wild-card spot.
That realization hit them on this road trip like a fastball to the ribs, particularly over the last three days in Oakland.
On a day with their prized ace, Luis Castillo, on the mound, the Mariners seemed poised to end the trip with a win before heading into an off day Monday and a six-game homestand, which includes a huge four-game series with the Cleveland Guardians.
Instead, they were outplayed and outperformed by the rookie remnants and remaining survivors of a team that has had multiple fire sales to sell off established players — offseason and at the trade deadline — in a 5-3 loss to the Oakland A’s.
After a slugging start and doing little against A’s starter J.P. Sears, who was once a Mariners prospect, Seattle tried desperately to rally in the later innings. But the Mariners couldn’t capitalize on scoring opportunities.
“It’s tough to lose this series coming in here the way we were going in Anaheim,” manager Scott Servais said. “I felt really good about our chances to win it. But we have a day off tomorrow. We’ve got a big homestand coming up. And we’re looking forward to that.”
Even with the back-to-back wins over the Mariners, Oakland still has the worst record in the American League at 45-77. And only the Nationals, who the Mariners host for a two-game series starting Tuesday, have a worse record at 41-82.
“We know how important these games are and what they mean,” first baseman Ty France said. “I think sometimes we are trying too hard and trying to make things happen instead of just playing our style of baseball. We are trying to force things when he don’t have to. Usually, when we go out there and play our game, we are in a good spot.”
For the first time since he was acquired by the Mariners, Castillo delivered a subpar outing. Making his fourth start for Seattle, he pitched just five innings, allowing four runs on eight hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
It was the first time he failed to pitch six innings since June 22 when he was with the Reds, and it ended a string of eight straight quality starts (six-plus innings pitched, three runs or fewer allowed). The eight hits allowed were a season high for Castillo, who just couldn’t find the command of his pitches. His misses were either in the middle of the plate or well out of the strike zone.
“I gotta give the A’s credit, they were on Luis Castillo,” Servais said. “They swung the bats very well against him today. Luis has been awesome for us since we acquired them. Maybe left a few balls in the middle of the plate, but they were super aggressive. They were hunting the fastballs and didn’t miss them.”
In Castillo’s five innings, Oakland had the leadoff runner on base in four of them. He also threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 23 batters he faced while he threw balls on seven of 11 1-1 counts and also had seven three-ball counts in the outing.
“I wasn’t in 100% rhythm the whole day,” Castillo said through an interpreter. “They were aggressive and swinging at the fastballs.”
The A’s jumped on Castillo in the first inning. Seth Brown doubled over Julio Rodriguez’s head in center and Sean Murphy followed with a double into left field. Castillo then hit Stephen Vogt with a bounced breaking ball in the leg. He avoided further damage by picking off Murphy at second for the second out.
Oakland added two more runs in the second. Castillo walked Jonah Bride to start the inning and gave up a double to touted prospect Shea Langeliers. Cal Stevenson drove in a run with a sac fly to deep center, and Nick Allen plated another run with a single to left.
“Not every day is going to be a great one, but you have to deal with it,” Castillo said. “I put myself in those situations with those counts.”
The Mariners scratched out a run in the third inning on Mitch Haniger’s solo homer to left field off Sears. It was bittersweet considering Rodriguez had led off the inning with a single, but Ty France hit into a double play.
Oakland picked up another run in the fifth inning when Vogt singled up the middle to make it 4-1.
The Mariners cut the lead to 4-3 in the seventh. Cal Raleigh ripped a pinch-hit double off the wall in left field to score Dylan Moore. Rodriguez followed with a quality two-strike approach, punching a single up the middle on a 2-2 breaking ball away to score Raleigh.
The Mariners threatened to tie the game in the eighth, getting runners on first and third with one out. But J.P. Crawford’s hard line drive was right at Bride at second base. Allen made a nice play on Moore’s ground ball to end the inning.
Oakland tacked on a big insurance run on Langeliers’ RBI triple off Matt Festa in the eighth.
“Oftentimes when you make the comeback, it’s, ‘Well, we competed our tails off, this team has no quit,'” Servais said. “We did the same thing today. We did not quit. Our guys found a way to get the tying run to the plate multiple times late in the game or even the winning run. It was not our day. We’re probably more frustrated than anything else that we didn’t get a few things to go our way.”