The Mariners (26-18) started the day with the best road record in the league at 18-7, but they are 8-11 at home this season and have lost all four of their home games against the A’s.
Mariners manager Scott Servais had a pretty good read on his team’s 5-0 defeat Monday against the Oakland Athletics.
“Not exactly the way we thought it was going to finish,” Servais said.
That’s because Servais watched Taijuan Walker, his starting pitcher, dominate deep into the night — only to get burned by one mistake and then one disastrous inning.
The Mariners (26-18) started the day with the best road record in the league at 18-7, but they are now 8-11 at home this season and have lost all four of their home games against the A’s.
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For most of his 102 pitches, Walker was everything the Mariners could have wanted.
He worked ahead in the count, both fooled and overpowered Oakland’s hitters and pitched longer than he had all season. The problem, at least at first, was just one pitch.
In the seventh inning, Walker left a fastball up in the strike zone, and Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt broke a scoreless tie with a solo home run. Vogt’s homer was on a 3-1 count — the first time Walker faced a three-ball count in the game. At that point, Walker had retired 18 of the previous 19 hitters he faced.
But the real trouble came in the eighth, and it started with a familiar, but new face. With shortstop Ketel Marte on the disabled list, Chris Taylor made his first start at shortstop for Seattle (Taylor played with the Mariners each of the past two seasons).
Marcus Semien, the A’s leadoff hitter in the eighth, hit a ground ball to Taylor, who fielded it cleanly. But he sailed his throw to first base and into the stands for a two-base error.
“I knew he was a fast runner, so I wanted to make a good throw over there and I sailed it,” Taylor said.
Walker gave up a single that scored a run, and that’s when things fell apart. Walker left with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth. Taylor contributed to that bases-loaded jam as well by first bobbling a ground ball and then skipping the throw past first base for his second error of the inning. Taylor told Walker on the mound, “My fault. Pick me up.”
“I might have let the adrenaline get the better of me tonight,” Taylor said. “But that’s part of the game. I’ll settle down, and I’ll get back at it.”
Said Walker, “Chris is an outstanding shortstop. He’s going to save a lot of runs for us. He’s going to make some great plays for us.”
Vidal Nuno entered in relief of Walker and hit the first batter he faced, allowing another run to score. Two more runs scored when reliever Joel Peralta replaced Nuno and promptly allowed a double.
By the end of the inning, the Mariners trailed 5-0.
It was a brutal way for Walker to end his best start in a month and maybe his best start of the season. Walker’s only walk was intentional. He struck out six and allowed four hits. Only one of his five runs was earned.
Servais said Walker’s fastball was the most electric it had been all season. That was a point of emphasis entering the game. After a fantastic start to the season, Walker had been uneven in May, and he and the staff thought a lot of his struggles had to do with his fastball.
“He was letting it fly,” Servais said, “and that’s exactly what we wanted to get him back to.”
Walker agreed. He lasted 71/3 innings, his longest start this season, and he said his fastball command was so good he was able to get outs early in the count.
“I wasn’t being aggressive the past couple starts with my fastball,” he said. “The game plan today was to go right after them and attack them and throw strikes with my fastball.”
That game plan worked well. Except for one pitch, and then one inning, that got away from Walker and the Mariners.