The Mariners led 6-0 early and 6-3 in the ninth before closer Steve Cishek allowed three runs, including the tying run on a wild pitch. The Cubs got the win in the 12th when Lester bunted in Jason Heyward.
CHICAGO — The last time the Mariners were on the national stage of ESPN’s Sunday night baseball, they needed White Sox closer Billy Koch to implode for three runs in the bottom of the ninth, including a bases-loaded walkoff walk to Jolbert Cabrera for a victory at Safeco Field.
Now 12 years, one month and 25 days later, in their return to the prime-time showcase, they gave that national audience a memorable ending, but this time there were no wild celebrations, just another frustrating 7-6 loss that should have been a win.
The Mariners, specifically closer Steve Cishek, blew a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth, giving up three runs with the tying run coming on a wild pitch that sent the game into extra innings.
In the bottom of the 12th with Jayson Heyward on third base with one out, pinch-hitter Jon Lester, normally a starting pitcher, put down a perfect two-strike bunt on a 2-2 count. Pitcher Cody Martin charged off the mound but couldn’t make a play on it as Heyward slid into home for the winning run.
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The Mariners knew Lester, a product of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, was bunting and had the infield in. He didn’t hide his intentions and he still made it work.
“It’s about as good as you can execute the squeeze,” Martin said. “He did a good job of getting it down and completely deadened it. It was a lot longer run than we wanted to the ball. If he hits it any harder, we most likely get that play.”
Martin was trying to strike Lester out and threw him a curveball.
“I thought he might take it, seeing the big hump in the pitch, but he didn’t,” Martin said.
It was a gut-punch of a loss for a Mariners team that has suffered many late-inning body blows this season. They go home with a 4-4 mark on their eight-game trip and continue to tread water.
“It was a crazy game and there was a lot in that game,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s disappointing. I thought we had the game in hand. We played pretty good, but the ninth inning got away from us. Quite frankly we should have got two out of three (in the series) and it didn’t happen. You have to finish. And we didn’t finish it tonight.”
Oh, that ninth inning. In a season where they’ve now blown 17 saves — second most in the American League — with Cishek accounting for six of them, this was one of the worst.
Cishek struck out Kris Bryant to start the inning. But then it fell apart. He gave up a double to Anthony Rizzo and a single to Ben Zobrist to put runners on the corners. Addison Russell followed with a single to left that scored Rizzo to make it 6-4. Recently called up outfielder Guillermo Heredia compounded the problems by throwing the ball to third base, allowing Russell to advance to second, taking away a possible double play.
“Not a good play,” Servais said.
It continued to snowball. Cishek hit Heyward in the foot with a pitch to load the bases.
The Mariners looked like they might escape the inning and hang on for a win. Wilson Contreras hit a ground ball to third. Kyle Seager tried to turn a game-ending double play, but Contreras just beat the throw from Robinson Cano, allowing a run to score and keeping the inning alive.
“It was bang-bang,” Servais said.
“The guy can run and he’s very athletic.”
With the tying run on third, Cishek yanked a 0-2 slider across his body, throwing it through the left-handed hitter batter’s box. Catcher Mike Zunino had no chance. The wild pitch allowed Russell to score the tying run. Cishek was able to end the inning and keep the score tied.
“My stuff was terrible tonight,” Cishek said. “I had a hard time commanding my fastball. Slider was not the same. And it got exposed. Two runs scored, no big deal. I go 0-2 and try to do too much with a slider and throw it straight into the ground. It’s just unacceptable. I was trying everything, but they exposed me pretty easily tonight.”
Powered by two-run homers from Nelson Cruz, Cano and Dae-Ho Lee, the Mariners scored six runs in the first three innings off Cubs spot starter Brian Matusz and got a five-inning start from Felix Hernandez, which seemed like enough for a victory.
Matusz was called up from Class AAA Iowa to give the Cubs’ starting rotation an extra day of rest, but he made his bullpen work overtime, pitching just three innings and leaving the crowd of 40,952 booing.
Hernandez’s performance meandered from the frustrating lack of command that has plagued him much of the season, particularly since coming off the disabled list, to the pinpoint accuracy and stuff that Mariners fans hope will return with consistency.
Hernandez didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, holding the Cubs scoreless until the fifth.
With one out, the Cubs loaded the bases. Hernandez struck out Bryant but then walked Zobrist to force in a run and then hit Russell with a pitch to force in a second run. But he kept the game at 6-2, striking out Heyward to end the inning.
“I lost my command in the fifth,” he said.