BOSTON — They’ve come at random times in seven of his nine starts this season. There are usually no precursors to their occurrence. The indicators that they are starting are usually a leadoff batter reaching base or a walk, sometimes two, or even three being issued to pressurize the situation, making mistakes more costly.
And no matter how much he tries to refocus and reel the situation back in, no matter how loud he grunts or how hard he tries to execute even for just one key pitch, he can’t seem to avoid them. And much to the displeasure of Robbie Ray and the Mariners, they haven’t always been overcome.
One bad/big inning has plagued the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner in all but two of his outings this season. It’s been a frustrating theme to his season and the “Story” of Friday night’s outing at Fenway Park.
This time it came in the third inning when he gave up a grand slam to Trevor Story in a scoreless game.
Whether that four-run frame ultimately cost the Mariners a win can be debated. It certainly didn’t help. But it was Seattle’s cratering bullpen that made any possibility of a comeback from it impossible when Anthony Misiewicz served up a three-run opposite field homer over the green monster to Jackie Bradley Jr. turning a somewhat workable one-run deficit into a 7-3 loss to the Red Sox.
“I certainly thought we had a little momentum going there,” manager Scott Servais said. “If you’re going into the ninth inning down by one, all you need is one swing of the bat in this ballpark, and anything can happen. But it got away from us.”
Down 4-0, the Mariners crawled back into the game as Ray worked the next three innings scoreless. A two-run homer from Abraham Toro in the fifth inning and an RBI single from Jesse Winker in the eighth cut it to 4-3.
After retiring the first batter of the eighth, Diego Castillo gave up back-to-back singles to J.D. Martinez and pinch-hitter Franchy Cordero and then got Story to fly out to left field. With the left-handed hitting Bradley coming up, Servais turned to Misiewicz to play the left-on-left matchup. Misiewicz fell behind 3-1 and left a fastball at the top of the zone that Bradley, who had just two hits in 17 plate appearances against lefties this season, could drive.
“He fell behind in the count,” Servais said. “We talk all the time about how important it is to control the count. We fell behind and we paid the price.”
Seattle has lost four of its past five games. And even with the series win over the Mets to start the road trip, the Mariners are 6-16 since April 26. They are now 3-16 when scoring three runs or fewer and 0-21 when trailing after six innings. So maybe that late rally wasn’t so plausible.
Ray’s final line: six innings, four runs allowed on five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts.
The four runs, two of the hits and both walks came in the third inning. Ray allowed a leadoff single to the No. 9 hitter Christian Vazquez and walked Enrique Hernandez to start the problems. After getting Rafael Devers to line out and striking out Martinez, Ray walked Xander Bogaerts to load the bases to bring Story to the plate.
Off to a miserably slow start and hearing boos from Red Sox fans after signing a six-year, $140 million contract his offseason, Story put himself back into their favor with a four-hit, three-homer, seven-RBI night in Thursday’s 12-6 win over the team that also was trying to sign him this offseason, offering a contract similar to the Red Sox.
After popping up to second in his first at-bat on a slider, Story got a similar slider and put it into the seats on top of the monster.
“I was just trying to go middle down below the zone just like I had done with J.D.” Ray said. “I’d done it all game. Probably the same exact pitch in the first inning, he popped it straight up. That at-bat he was on it. So that’s why it’s super frustrating because I felt like it was a pretty good slider. It wasn’t like it was middle-middle. Frustrating.”
But the one bad pitch was compounded by the walks to Hernandez and Bogaerts. A bad pitch hurts a little more with runners on base.
“Obviously they are a super-hot team right now,” he said. “They’ve been swinging the bat really good as of late. And you can’t give them extra chances. I think that’s the biggest thing is you can’t give them extra pitches, extra at-bats. I’ve just got to be better.”
In five of his starts, he’s had an inning where he’s allowed three runs more. Seattle has lost four of those games. The only win was an 8-7 victory over the Mets.
“It’s become a common theme and he knows it,” Servais said. “He’s frustrated by it as well because it sneaks up on him. And it’s not just one run, it’s a crooked number. And that’s what has gotten us the last few times he’s been out there.”
Fair or not, given the Mariners’ offensive woes, allowing three or more runs in an inning might be more than his teammates will score in a whole game.
“It’s super frustrating,” Ray said of the one-inning blow-ups. “My last few starts, I’ve felt really good. I feel like my stuff is really good. I always talk about the big inning, but this was one pitch and it’s super frustrating.”
But he believes it will be solved.
“It’s gonna come around,” he said. “I just have to stick with the process. My stuff is really good. I’m still punching out 8, 9, 10 guys. The stuff is there. It’s just a matter of one pitch, figuring out that one pitch, buckling down in that inning where things start to go a little haywire. Just breathe and stay calm.”