OAKLAND, Calif. – The frustration that filled Yusei Kikuchi as he handed the ball to manager Scott Servais couldn’t be hidden. Soaked in sweat from a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon, his face wore the emotion and his head shook in disappointment as he trudged off the field of the Oakland Coliseum with two outs still left in the fourth inning.
He’d suffered through an awful outing when his team desperately needed the opposite. His attempt to stop the current spate of losing ended far sooner than anticipated and without his expected level of success. After being Seattle’s best starter over the past month, Kikuchi delivered his worst outing of his brief major-league career and the Mariners could never quite recover in a 6-5 loss to the A’s.
“We’ve been on this losing streak and I wanted to have a good outing and pass the baton on to the next pitcher,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak. “I wasn’t able to do that today.”
It was their fifth consecutive loss in what is now a winless road trip. They’ve lost 20 of their past 25 games to fall to 23-31 on the season.
“We’ll be fine,” Servais said. “It will turn. I know it will as long as you keep the right attitude and keep grinding through it.”
Seattle’s last win came with Kikuchi on the mound. He beat the Twins, the hottest team in baseball, last Sunday at T-Mobile Park. In fact, amid all the losing since the early success, the Mariners had picked up victories in five of Kikuchi’s previous six starts. He seemed like their best hope to salvage a victory on this road trip. But facing him for the third time this season, the A’s were ready for him. The mystery of his delivery had been solved. His arsenal of pitchers was known. And their plan of attack was formulated — attack his curveball early in counts instead of letting him get early called strikes with it.
“Coming into the game, I knew it was going to be a little bit of a challenge for Yusei having faced Oakland three times,” Servais said. “They were on him. They were on the breaking balls today and they swung the bat well against him. I think four or five of the hits came on first-pitch breaking balls.”
Oakland knocked Kikuchi around for five runs on 10 hits with a walk and just one strikeout in 3 1/3 innings. He never worked a clean inning. Eight of his 10 hits allowed came on breaking balls. But his first run allowed came on a misplaced 3-1 fastball in the first inning that Matt Chapman smashed over the wall in right-center for a 1-0 lead.
The A’s picked up another run in the third inning after loading the bases and scoring on Jurickson Profar’s infield single. Kikuchi’s outing fell apart in the fourth. He gave up a leadoff double to Ramon Laureano on a 2-2 slider, recorded an out and then hit the No. 9 hitter Josh Phegley with a pitch. Marcus Semien ambushed a first-pitch curveball into left field to score a run while Chad Pinder pulled a two-run double to left on a 1-1 slider in on his hands. What seemed like a good pitch was instead looped into left field, knocking Kikuchi out of the game.
“They were hitting my curveball pretty well,” he said. “That’s a pitch I’ve leaned on a lot this year and seeing them a third time that could play a factor. I was getting strikes with it. It wasn’t a bad curveball but I felt like they were sitting on it.”
Was he possibly tipping when he would throw the curveball?
“I don’t think so, but you can’t take out that possibility,” he said. “So I’m definitely going to go back and look at it.”
Even with Kikuchi’s subpar outing, the Mariners still had the tying run at the plate in the top of the ninth. The scoreless relief work from Austin Adams and Anthony Bass allowed them to come back.
“I thought our bullpen did a really nice job,” Servais said. “Those are good signs.”
But a late run allowed by Brandon Brennan in the eighth inning pushed the lead to three and proved to be costly.
Down 6-3 going into the top of the ninth and facing closer Blake Treinen, Domingo Santana clubbed his second solo homer of the game to trim the lead to 6-4. Playing in his first game of the season after being activated from the injured list, Kyle Seager notched his second hit of the game — a double to right field — that brought the tying run to the plate with one out.
The A’s got a huge break when left fielder Robbie Grossman made a spectacular sliding catch in foul territory for the second out of the inning. J.P. Crawford nearly tied the game, hitting a rocket to left-center, but the ball hit about 2 feet below the top of the wall.
“I knew I hit it pretty well,” he said. “But I wasn’t sure it would go out.”
Crawford settled for an RBI double that trimmed the lead to one run. But Treinen got Shed Long to fly out to right to end the game.
“We were about 2 feet away from still playing,” Servais said. “We just came up a little short.”