Yankees get four runs in second off Tommy Milone, who entered in the second inning after opener Matt Wisler's 1-2-3 first inning.
Perhaps if the Mariners pushed their opener just a little further into the game, the results might have been different. Of course, the clarity of such decisions is never wrong once the 27th out has been made and easy to make on social media.
The opener strategy has generated a fair amount of disdain within the Mariners’ fan base. They don’t like it, don’t understand it, don’t think it works and don’t want it used … ever.
And yet, for one game, it all changed. The anger wasn’t the use of a reliever to start the game. No, it was removing that reliever too soon in a 5-4 loss Monday night to the New York Yankees.
This is a new territory of acrimony when it comes to the opener. For much of the season, it’s been the struggles of that first pitcher, seemingly torpedoing the rest of the game, making it impossible to win. But this time the anger/blame fell on bulk pitcher Tommy Milone, who allowed four runs in the second inning — his first inning of work — and the Mariners never quite recovered.
“A couple of mistakes that Tommy left in the middle of the plate hurt us,” manager Scott Servais said.
Mike Ford capitalized on two of Milone’s mistakes, launching a pair of homers to power the Yankees’ offense.
If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Ford was briefly a Mariner before the 2018 season. Seattle selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Yankees organization. He was invited to big league spring training to compete for a first-base spot that eventually went to Ryon Healy. Since he wasn’t going to make the 25-man roster, Ford was sent back to the Yankees. He spent all of last season in Class AAA. With injuries to Greg Bird, Luke Voit and Edwin Encarnacion, Ford made his MLB debut this season and is taking advantage of his opportunity to play.
The Mariners got a stellar 1-2-3 first inning from opener Matt Wisler, which included strikeouts of Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner, and a total of 12 pitches. The Mariners decided to go to Milone in the second inning instead of trying to push Wisler to face the two right-handed hitters — Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez — who were scheduled to hit.
“With where he’s been at usage wise and the last couple of times out, it’s been a little bit rougher for him,” Servais said of Wisler. “So going into the game tonight, we thought if we could get one inning out of him, we’d be in good shape and go from there. Sometimes (we) have gone deeper (with openers), but with Wisler and how much we’ve used him, we thought one inning was going to be enough.”
It was not an ideal start to the inning for Milone.
Torres, who is on a homer-hitting tear, wasn’t going to let Milone ease into his outing with an easy first-pitch, get-me-over strike. Nope, he demolished the 86-mph fastball from Milone, sending it over the wall in dead-center for his 33rd homer of the season and his 13th homer in August.
“First pitch and I was just trying to throw a strike and he just jumped on it,” Milone said.
Not the immediate result you want after a scoreless inning from an opener.
“Tommy’s first pitch wasn’t that sharp,” Servais said.
Milone looked like he might limit the damage to just one run. With two outs and a runner on second, he gave up an RBI single to Austin Romine. That third out wouldn’t come for another five batters. Ford, the next batter, pulled a fastball over the wall in right field for a two-run homer to make it 4-0.
The Yankees loaded the bases against Milone with two outs. But after crushing the first pitch, Torres flew out on the last pitch of the inning. The game had all the feel of snowballing into yet another lopsided blowout that the Mariners endured for much of the season but had avoided lately.
Instead, they answered immediately against starter and one-time Mariner J.A. Happ. With two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the second, Dylan Moore clubbed a three-run homer to center to trim the lead to one run.
“Huge home run by Dylan Moore to get us right back in the game,” Servais said.
It was Moore’s second straight day with a homer.
“Hitting balls hard is always better than not hitting them hard or hitting them soft,” Moore deadpanned. “I’m trying to be on time for the hardest pitch a pitcher has. That’s going to get me to where I want to be.”
Milone came back from the four-run second inning with a 1-2-3 third inning. But Ford got to him again in the fourth inning, launching a solo homer to deep right field that made it 5-3. It was Ford’s third homer in two days. Also six of his eight homers have come off left-handed pitching.
“He does have power to the pull side,” Servais said. “And he got on a couple tonight.”
Milone has now allowed 14 homers in his last eight outings, which is a problem.
“It’s concerning,” he said. “The amount of home runs I’ve given up is something I have to address.”
To Milone’s credit, he allowed just that one run after the four-run second inning. He gave Seattle five innings and kept the deficit within reach.
Mallex Smith trimmed the lead to 5-4 in the seventh inning with his sixth homer of the season. Smith smashed a solo homer to right field off lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. that MLB Statcast measured at 384 feet, which is surprising pop for a player not known for his power. He also wouldn’t have gotten the at-bat had Keon Broxton not been ejected in the second inning by plate umpire Manny Gonzalez. Upset about a called third strike from Gonzalez, Broxton voiced his displeasure, then turned his back and walked toward the outfield. In the process, he ripped off his batting gloves and threw him behind him in disgust. One of the gloves hit Gonzalez in the arm and face, earning the automatic ejection.
“I didn’t know I hit him until I turned around and he told me,” Broxton said. “I heard the crowd and I turned around a couple of seconds after I let the batting gloves release. He said, ‘You hit me in the face and you’re out.’ And I was like, ‘uh, I did not mean to do that at all.’ The odds of that happening are really slim.It’s really unfortunate it happened”
It was an accident, but Broxton was still very apologetic.
“That’s all on me,” he said. “Lesson learned. I can handle things in a better way. I could’ve just walked to the dugout and put my stuff down and ran back out there, regardless of how I felt about the call or not. I take full responsibility for it. It’s a bad look. It’s a bad look for the organization. It’s a bad look for me. I definitely regret doing it. I’ve learned from it. Now I know. You just can’t do stuff like that. That’s not how baseball should be played anyway.”
Seattle never had a realistic chance to tie the score in the later innings. The power duo of right-hander Tommy Kahnle and closer Aroldis Chapman each worked scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth to secure the win.