The Mariners had a chance to beat the Rangers in the 10th inning, but Texas made an unorthodox move that paid off in an 11-3 win over Seattle.
It was an unusual strategy, but ultimately effective.
With two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning and Seth Smith standing on second base representing the winning run in a 3-3 game, Rangers manager Jeff Bannister decided he wanted no part of Nelson Cruz or Robinson Cano, who had beaten his team the night before with home runs. He preferred to take his chances with Jesus Montero.
So Bannister had closer Shawn Tolleson walk both hitters, moving the potential winning run to third base and load the bases — something that defies traditional baseball thinking.
Texas @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
But the move was successful. Tolleson struck out Montero looking to end the inning.
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The Mariners’ failure would cost them a win on Saturday. Texas took the lead in the top of the 11th, scoring a ridiculous eight runs — six of which were charged to lefty Rob Rasmussen (1-1).
Seattle obviously had no answer in the bottom of the inning after the implosion, suffering an 11-3 loss.
“I was trying to put the ball in play, but I got nothing else to say,” Montero said. “It was a very tough at-bat right there. I tried my best to hit the ball hard. He made some good pitches. He was throwing hard.”
McClendon told Montero moments before going to the plate to be selective on the first pitch, and Tolleson threw a ball. But the next pitch was called a strike.
“I thought the second pitch was a ball as well,” McClendon said. “And that would have changed that at-bat totally. But that’s the way it goes.”
To be fair, the disappointment of that 10th inning should not fall solely on the shoulders of Montero. The Mariners could have and should have won the game before he ever stepped to the plate.
They were given a gift when rookie left fielder Ryan Strausborger, who was playing in just his third big-league game, dropped Smith’s liner off Tolleson to the warning track, putting the winning run into scoring position.
McClendon tried to have Mike Zunino bunt Smith to third. But Zunino, who is tied for the lead on the team with five sac bunts, took a strike and then fouled off a bunt on a pitch that almost hit him. Tolleson struck him out swinging two pitches later.
Kyle Seager’s struggles with runners in scoring position continued. He came into the game hitting just .185 (17 for 92) in that situation this season. Tolleson struck out Seager swinging with a 2-2 changeup, setting up Bannister’s strategy.
“He threw me a good slider and got me in a hole and he threw a good changeup to beat me,” Seager said.
That set up Bannister’s strategy.
“The big out really was the Seager at-bat,” Bannister said. “If we don’t get Seager there, you’re probably going to have to face one of them.”
But with Seager out, there’s no way Bannister was letting Cruz or Cano beat him.
“Two guys we’ve seen early in the year that beat us,” Bannister said. “These are accomplished guys. They’re dynamic. We were going to go ahead and bypass them. I trust Shawn to be able to throw strikes. I trust his stuff against Montero.
“It set up about as good as we can get. I know it’s not optimal. It’s not exactly how you draw it up, but that’s how much I trust Tolly.”
Regardless of Rasmussen’s implosion in the 11th, the game was lost in the 10th.
“We should have won the ballgame there,” McClendon said. “We didn’t get the bunt down or come through.”
And the players knew it as well.
“That proved to be the game,” Seager said. “You get a guy on second with no outs and we had three shots at him and we weren’t able to come through.”