With every game being critical to stay relevant in a wild-card race that is growing less competitive with each day, the Mariners couldn’t muster a run in a 4-0 defeat against the Yankees.
Robinson Cano seemed confused. He couldn’t have missed the pitch by that much. He saw it as a strike early, so did it really move that much? He should have at least gotten a piece of it to foul it off so he could see something different, something hittable, perhaps a rare mistake pitch.
Cano looked back at catcher Gary Sanchez and home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds in frustrated disbelief. He’d struck out swinging with two outs and runners on the corners in the top of the sixth.
And the Mariners’ only legitimate chance to score off Masahiro Tanaka on Friday night ended the same as the other seven innings of his outing — with a zero.
With every game being critical to stay relevant in a wild-card race that is growing less competitive with each day, the Mariners couldn’t muster a run in a 4-0 defeat against the Yankees. Tanaka shut them down using a fastball with more life and velocity than in recent outings, a nasty dropping splitfinger and a biting slider.
The Mariners’ current offensive woes and their willingness to swing at anything mildly resembling a strike combined with Tanaka’s stellar stuff, precise command and execution could only lead to a suboptimal result for Seattle.
“That’s about as good of a pitched game that we’ve had against us in quite some time,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He just didn’t miss. He used all four quadrants of the strike zone with his fastball and had the really good splitfinger going. You have to tip your cap to him. That was a dominant performance.”
With the lackluster defeat and the A’s victory over the Rangers, Seattle now is 6 1/2 games back for the second wild-card spot. While it’s considered an inevitability to a good portion of the Mariners’ fan base — and for good reasons — the Mariners’ fading postseason hopes could be extinguished by the end of the weekend.
That means a team that was 11 1/2 games up in the second wild-card race in mid-June might not even be able to have meaningful games in the final two weeks of the season.
The aforementioned pitch to Cano, as so many on the night from Tanaka, was a picture of execution. After Seattle was held to one hit for the first five innings while trailing 4-0, Mike Zunino led off the sixth with a double down the left field line. He represented the Mariners’ first runner in scoring position on the night. Tanaka came back to strike out Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger swinging in two less-than-productive at-bats. The Mariners’ third hit of the game came when Jean Segura’s hard comebacker ricocheted off Tanaka’s glove, putting runners on the corners and bringing Cano to the plate to face his old team.
He fell behind 0-2 on the first two pitches. After watching Cano not chase a high fastball, Tanaka came back with a slider that started on the inner half of the plate and then cut toward Cano’s back ankle.
“He didn’t show Robbie a slider all night until that pitch,” Servais said. “He can make pitches.”
Cano, who got the Mariners’ first hit off Tanaka, swung over the top of a ball that might have hit him.
“He hadn’t even pitched me inside,” Cano said. “That moved really big. He was the same guy you always see — just put the ball wherever he wants.”
Tanaka worked two more innings, finishing with eight shutout frames, while allowing three hits with no walks and 10 strikeouts to improve to 11-5. In eight career starts against the Mariners, Tanaka is 7-0 with a 2.02 ERA with 64 strikeouts and five walks.
“When he’s throwing his offspeed pitches for strikes, you know he’s going to be good,” Cano said. “He never throws you a ball down the middle. He always throws everything in the bottom part of the zone. As a hitter, it’s hard, you don’t know if it’s his fastball or his splitter.”
In the 100th start of his big-league career, James Paxton pitched six innings, allowing the four runs on five hits with a walk and eight strikeouts. He was pretty effective save for two pitches.
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“I thought Pax had really good stuff,” Servais said. “Unfortunately he made a couple of mistakes and they hit them out of the ballpark.”
After a quick 1-2-3 first inning that needed just 10 pitches, Paxton quickly retired the first two hitters of the second. But Luke Voit muscled a 1-2 cutter into right for the first hit of the game. The next batter, talented rookie Gleyber Torres, pulled a 2-2 cutter from Paxton over the wall in left field for a two-run homer.
“Just a cutter that didn’t get to his back foot,” Paxton said.
Paxton got bit by another two-run homer in the next inning. Brett Gardner led off the third with a single to left, setting up Andrew McCutchen for his first homer as a member of the Yankees. The former National League MVP, who was acquired Aug. 31 from the Giants, took advantage of a hanging breaking ball, slamming it over the wall in left center and into the Mariners’ bullpen.
“I made some mistakes in those innings and they made me pay,” Paxton said. “Sometimes they foul those pitches off, sometimes they pop them up, but tonight they didn’t miss. They hit them out of the park.”
Two missed locations, two two-run homers and another defeat for Paxton, who fell to 11-6, in his second start back from the disabled list. But he’s healthy and ready to make his remaining starts for the season.
“I think he looks great,” Servais said. “He’s going right after guys with an aggressive nature with the fastball. The fastball has got a lot of life to it. Almost all the curveballs he threw tonight were really good, they were down and had good bite to them. I like where Pax is at. He looks completely healthy.”