The parade of baserunners rounding the bases and eventually crossing home plate looked endless. The quest to record just one out, the final out of any sort, seemed impossible to achieve. The inning itself felt interminable and uncomfortable as the carnage continued and continued with Bryan Shaw trying everything and finding nothing to stop the hemorrhaging.
When the misery finally ended eight runs later, the Mariners’ victory hopes were non-existent even with 4½ more innings left to play and Shaw’s future with the team was in serious doubt.
With Monday night’s 11-1 drubbing by the A’s in the finale of the four-game series, the Mariners have now lost seven of the 11 games they’ve played this season. But this beatdown was, well, reminiscent of the lopsided defeats that Seattle endured during the 2019 season, which now feels like five years ago.
“That one got away from us,” manager Scott Servais said in his postgame video call. “Not a fun game to watch by any standards. Unfortunately, it got ugly there. Nothing we can do about it now, just get in the shower and wash it away. We’ve got the Angels coming in and we have to get back on track tomorrow.”
And really there was no indication that such a rout was coming going into the top of the fifth inning. The first game of this pitching-dominated series was decided by two runs — a 5-3 win by the Mariners, with the next two being one-run victories for Oakland.
Seattle starter Justus Sheffield looked strong early on in his second outing of the season. Promising to be aggressive after pitching tentatively in his first start of the season, Sheffield backed it up early. He worked the first four innings scoreless, allowing just one hit and a walk with four strikeouts. His sinking fastball had good movement and his slider was generating swings and misses. He’d thrown only 56 pitches and seemed to be cruising to get through at least five innings and maybe six with his pitch limit around 80-85.
And with a 1-0 lead, he would be in line for a win.
Then came the fateful fifth inning.
It started off with an immediate out. Sheffield retired Chad Pinder with a ground ball to shortstop J.P. Crawford, who made a wayward throw but was saved by a brilliant stretch from Evan White.
The second out? That took a while.
Sheffield walked Khris Davis in a nine-pitch battle where he was up early in the count, but he just couldn’t finish the mercurial slugger.
“He had a great at-bat,” Sheffield said. “At 3-2, we just kept hammering the heaters in, in and then away. And I thought I’d be able to get him with a slider, but he did a nice job laying off it. Tip your hat to him, but, again, you can’t be giving free passes.”
Stephen Piscotty followed with a single to left and Sean Murphy singled on a ground ball to third where Kyle Seager made a difficult stop but couldn’t get an out.
“It all changed with that long at-bat with Khris Davis,” Servais said. “The inning started to pile up. Sheff just couldn’t put him away. He made good pitches and Davis just kept fouling them off. The walk at the time didn’t look like that big of a deal. But it led to some other things coming behind that.”
In past outings, when the game started to speed up and spin out of control, Sheffield’s emotions would mirror the situation. But he coolly struck out Marcus Semien swinging on a nasty 3-2 slider. All he needed was another out to escape the self-created problem.
“A hit, a walk, whatever, he has the weapons to pitch out of it,” Servais said.
It never came. Ramon Laureano, who has torched Seattle pitchers in this series, punched a ground-ball single through the right side of the infield past second baseman Shed Long that allowed two runners to score and gave the A’s a 2-1 lead.
“I felt like I made pitches,” Sheffield said. “I got the ground balls that I wanted but they didn’t end up in spots where guys could make plays. It was tough.”
With Sheffield’s pitch count at 86 and having thrown 30 pitches in the inning, Servais went to his bullpen, which has become a masochistic experience for all involved.
Shaw, the most veteran reliever in a really inexperienced bullpen, got the call despite middling results in his first three outings. This outing might have ended his time with the Mariners.
“I thought this was a perfect spot to bring him in,” Servais said of needing just one out. “He gives up the single. There were some walks and some soft hits. But he just didn’t have much command.”
He tossed a pitch that Austin Nola couldn’t handle and allowed a run to score. A single from Mark Canha scored another run to make it 4-1 with both runs being charged to Sheffield.
From there, Shaw would face six more batters, allowing either a walk or a hit with four more runs scoring before getting Semien to make his second out of the inning with a flyout to right field.
A total of 14 batters came the plate in the top of the fifth. There were eight hits, driving in seven runs with a passed ball for another run. Semien made the second and third outs of the inning. Sheffield was charged with four of those runs. He was credited with 4 2/3 innings pitched.
Shaw pitched 1/3 of an inning, allowing four runs on five hits with two walks. He threw 28 pitches with 15 strikes.
In four appearances with the Mariners, Shaw has pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing 10 earned runs (a 27.00 ERA) on 10 hits with four walks and a hit batter. Of the 28 pitches Shaw threw against the A’s, he didn’t get one swing and miss. Of the 92 pitches he’s thrown this season, he has a total of five swings and misses. That just doesn’t work for a reliever.
Seattle signed Shaw just before opening day as a free agent after he was released by the Rockies despite having one year remaining on his 3-year, $27 million contract.
He had a forgettable two seasons with the Rockies where he posted a plus-5.00 ERA and looked nothing like the reliever he was in Cleveland where he’d posted a 3.11 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 387 appearances over five seasons.
Colorado will pay for the prorated portion of Shaw’s $9 million salary ($3.3 million) along with a $2 million buyout for the 2021 season. The Mariners only had to pay him the prorated league minimum to put him on the roster.
The Mariners hoped that getting out of Colorado’s altitude and thin air might allow his slider to re-find its effectiveness. It hasn’t thus far.
With rosters needing to be trimmed to 28 players on Thursday, Seattle will likely have to option at least one pitcher to the alternate training site in Tacoma.
“Yeah, Bryan Shaw, he’s struggling, there’s no question about it,” Servais said. “He has a ton of experience and a lot of success in this league. The last couple years have been rough for him in Colorado. We’re trying to give him some information to help him and get him the results he’s looking for. We have to get him back on track. We like him and love the experience factor he brings to our bullpen. But it’s about getting them out at this level.”