Normally witnessing Felix Hernandez walk off a mound after just four innings, after allowing a leadoff home run and then setting two runners on base after back-to-back walks to start his final frame, would pretty much write the book on that Seattle Mariners game.
The Mariners’ near-obsolete offense, again, did that for them.
Hernandez’s final line actually wasn’t all that impacted by what was mostly a struggle of an outing for the 32-year-old, but the Mariners offense mustered little against this New York Yankees pitching for a second consecutive night in a 4-2 loss on Saturday at Safeco Field.
“We obviously know what’s at stake and it’s frustrating any time you lose, no matter what time of the year it is,” Mariners outfielder Denard Span said. “We just haven’t been able to collectively get it going. We just got to find a way to come together and have better team at-bats.”
But two days, two losses and two major dips in the American League wild card chase. The Oakland Athletics won, again, to push the Mariners (78-64) to 7½ games back with now 20 remaining. The Mariners now have just a half-game lead on the Tampa Bay Rays (77-64).
The Yankees (89-53) own the top wild card.
The Mariners loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth after Mitch Haniger’s leadoff double, Robinson Cano was hit by a pitch and Nelson Cruz walked. They had one out.
But Dellin Betances struck out Span and Kyle Seager swinging to earn the save, with the Mariners held to four hits in the game.
“He’s a tough pitcher, man,” Span said of Betances. “He had that 98-mph fastball and two devastating breaking balls. You got to hope he makes a mistake and when he does it might only be one pitch.”
Betances did hang a curveball on the first pitch he threw to Seager in that night inning. Seager swung and missed.
“Left him a hanging breaking ball and he doesn’t put it in play and misses,” Mariners manager Scott Servais reiterated afterward. “It happens. It’s a game of less than inches when you’re like that. There’s a reason Betances strikes out the number of guys he does with that fastball and slider. We just didn’t get the big hit.”
Seager, despite a hit earlier in the game and a line drive right at the only defender positioned on the left side of the infield later, has a .215 batting average for the season, by far his career worst.
And now Seattle’s playoff hopes are down to a miracle at this point, sitting on as many wins as it had all of last season.
The Mariners had three hits entering the ninth inning of this one – a day after just three hits in a shutout loss against Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees.
“It’s a broken record. It really is,” Servais said. “It’s frustrating, disappointing – you have to square more balls up. Get more pressure on other teams.
“Unfortunately the timing of this is really bad. It’s been a struggle for a while but it’s not just one guy struggling. It’s a number of guys who have been unable to put a nice streak together where you have just 8-10 good at-bats. Not all of them are going to get hits, but just good at-bats. We struggle to put 4-5 of those guys together in the lineup and that’s when you’re going to struggle putting runs on the board.”
Hernandez walked to the mound for the first inning and four pitches into his 27th start of the season (he started 16 games last year) Andrew McCutchen spiked him with a leadoff home run.
Hernandez left a changeup high and McCutchen, the longtime Pittsburgh Pirates star who was traded to the Yankees last month from the Giants, hit his second homer in two days after taking James Paxton deep the day before.
Hernandez scattered five more hits through four innings before walking the first two batters he faced in the fifth, Brett Gardner and McCutchen.
He apparently wasn’t feeling right because he called for a Mariners trainer out of the dugout and soon after he was walking off the mound and Shawn Armstrong was on his way to the field from the bullpen.
It was later announced Hernandez exited with right hamstring tightness. He is day to day and said he’d been dealing with the hamstring issue for at least the past two starts.
“I’m not worried,” Hernandez said about going into his next start.
“It felt pretty good today, but that pitch to McCutchen and that fifth inning was a little different mechanics. I couldn’t push because of that bad leg.”
Tough situation for Armstrong, but he still hasn’t allowed a run since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma. A passed ball advanced the runners to second and third before Giancarlo Stanton hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly. The run was charged to Hernandez and unearned.
McCutchen advanced to third base but was doubled up when Aaron Hicks lined out to Jean Segura at shortstop.
Armstrong would toss one more 1-2-3 inning in the sixth inning.
Hernandez’s final line: Four-plus innings, six hits, two runs (one earned), three walks and two strikeouts on 75 pitches (just 42 for strikes).
But the Mariners were in the game. They just needed some offense.
First, Mike Zunino.
He entered with a .189 season batting average but the Mariners didn’t have a hit until he launched a 436-foot home run to straightaway center field to the base of the batter’s eye.
That’s what Mariners manager Scott Servais said, and what most else would agree with, has been the most frustrating part of Zunino’s struggling season. When he gets contact, there’s a chance for it to leave the ballpark, not just clear the outfield wall. But too often he doesn’t get contact.
There, he definitely did.
So that tied the game until the Mariners trailed 2-1 entering the bottom of the sixth.
Seager led off with a single before Ben Gamel replaced him at first after a fielder’s choice.
Dee Gordon was teetering on his season average dropping below .270 (he hit .308 with the Marlins last year). But he flared a single with two outs to left field and Gamel, who was at second, charged into home to tie the game back up.
Except the Yankees followed with another home run, this from Austin Romine off of Nick Vincent in the top of the seventh for a 3-2 lead before they added one more on a sacrifice fly against Ryan Cook in the top of the ninth.
A few takeaways:
Felix Hernandez recovered after allowing Andrew McCutchen’s leadoff home run and was through four innings in a 1-1 game until calling for a trainer.
He walked Brett Gardner and McCutchen back-to-back to start the inning. It was difficult to tell what was bothering Hernandez until the Mariners later announced Hernandez exited with tightness in his right hamstring.
So he left and Servais called on right-hander Shawn Armstrong out of the bullpen.
Armstrong managed to limit the damage to one unearned run after Mike Zunino’s passed ball and Giancarlo Stanton’s sacrifice fly. But Hernandez finished at four-plus innings, six scattered hits, three walks, two strikeouts and a 2-1 Mariners deficit.
Hernandez’s ERA dropped to 5.46. That remains easily his career high for a season.
The Mariners have been held to two runs or fewer in four of their seven games in September Each time they’ve scored more than three runs they’ve won.
And in their two games against the Yankees this series they have a combined seven hits.
“We’re not getting on base,” Robinson Cano said. “They’re pitching good, you got to give them credit, and they’re hitting they’re spots. But you need that one guy to get a bit hit in scoring position and the rest will follow.”
It was one thing to have three hits off of Masahiro Tanaka. It’s another to do that against Lance Lynn, who entered with a 5.10 ERA.
“I thought we would do a bit more against him,” Servais said. “Lynn has been throwing the ball much better of late and he comes after you with the fastball and we knew that coming in. We didn’t square a lot of the up. The couple we did were caught and line drives in the infield. We didn’t get much pressure on him early in the ball game at all.”
Mike Zunino launched a 436-foot bomb over the center-field wall and to the base of the batter’s eye for the Mariners’ first hit of the game, coming in the bottom of the third inning.
That was his 19th homer of the season and first since Aug. 24 in Arizona. He’s had a hit in four of six games in September.
That seemed like it could be the spark the Mariners’ offense needed. Instead, that was just one of their four hits.
Play of the game
Austin Romine, whose brother was sitting in the Seattle Mariners’ dugout, took Nick Vincent the opposite way for a go-ahead solo home run in the seventh inning to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
Vincent over his past 12 outings at Safeco Field since May 20, had allowed just two runs in 13 innings pitched until Saturday night.
Lance Lynn allowed more earned runs than Felix Hernandez did in six innings of work, but he got the win after allowing just three hits and no walks, lowing his season ERA to 5.01 after coming to the Yankees in a deadline trade from the Twins.
Dellin Betances earned his third save since taking over for injured Aroldis Chapman, stranding the bases loaded with one out after striking out Denard Span and Kyle Seager.
Gleyber Torres had two hits for the second consecutive day, but Andrew McCutchen set the tone with his leadoff home run, his second since arriving with the Yankees from the Giants and his second in two days against Mariners pitching. He hit one on Friday against James Paxton.
For the Mariners, Mike Zunino had one of their four hits (also, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon) and it was his 19th home run of the season.
Robinson Cano said it’s about impossible not to scoreboard watch. Now the Mariners trail the Athletics by 7½ games for the American League’s final wild card with 20 games remaining. They now have just a half-game lead on the Rays.
“It’s hard not to when they talk about it all day and night on TV,” Cano said. “But we can’t focus on what’s going on on the scoreboard. We just have to win games, and see where we’re at at the end. We have to keep winning games.”