An opportunity slipped away Sunday from the Mariners in large part because reliever Nick Vincent, in an otherwise standout season, remains bedeviled by Angels.
Vincent surrendered three runs in the eighth inning, which turned a tie game into a 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. Justin Upton delivered the key blow with a two-run double.
Upton had one hit in 10 previous career at-bats against Vincent. With the Angels, even when the percentages seem to favor Vincent, they don’t play out that way.
It’s tough to explain.
Vincent sports a 1.62 ERA in 58 games this season against everyone except the Angels. He allowed just 40 hits in 55 2/3 innings in those games. The Angels, though, are his kryptonite: seven runs and 10 hits in five innings over six outings.
“I don’t think about any of that going out there,” he said. “I just didn’t make any good pitches today. (Ben) Revere got on there to lead off the inning. I just made a bad pitch to Upton. A cutter in the middle, and he hit a double.”
The loss prevented the Mariners from completing a three-game weekend sweep, dropped them back below .500 at 71-72 and prevented them from gaining ground in the American League wild-card race.
Minnesota’s loss at Kansas City meant the Mariners, by winning, could have closed to within two games of the Twins in the battle for the final wild-card spot. Instead, they remain three games back with 19 games to play.
Despite Vincent’s previous struggles against the Angels, manager Scott Servais saw him as the obvious choice in a 2-2 game entering the eighth inning.
“Vinny has been outstanding all year,” Servais said. “He’s been our most consistent guy. The Angels have had some good swings at him, but he’s our guy.”
Revere started the inning by doinking a pinch-hit single into center.
“Ben faced (Vincent) the other day and got jammed,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He got a pitch today to line up the middle to get it started.”
Revere moved to second on Brandon Phillips’ sacrifice bunt, which prompted an intentional walk to Mike Trout, who had homered earlier in the game.
Upton then drove a first-pitch cutter into the left-center gap for a two-run double. Upton moved to third on Albert Pujols’ drive to deep center and, after Marc Rzepczynski replaced Vincent, scored on a wild pitch.
The Mariners got one run back later in the inning on a Jean Segura home run, but that was it. Cam Bedrosian (6-4) got the victory when Blake Parker and Yusmeiro Petit protected the lead over the final two innings.
The Angels opened the scoring in the first inning when Trout battled back from an 0-2 hole and drove a full-count cutter from Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez over the center-field wall for a 1-0 lead.
It was Trout’s 28th homer of the season in 96 games, and the 24th in his career against the Mariners. His career high against an opponent is his 25 homers against Oakland.
The Mariners answered with two runs in the second inning against LA starter Parker Bridwell after catching an enormous break. Kyle Seager was at third base with two outs when Ben Gamel sent a high drive to left-center field.
Either Upton or Trout could have made the catch. Neither did. The ball fell for a game-tying triple. Mike Zunino followed with a broken-bat RBI single to right for a 2-1 lead.
The same high sky tormented Gamel on Andrelton Simmons’ two-out fly in the fourth inning. The ball fell for a double, but Ramirez struck out Luis Valbuena.
Ramirez held the 2-1 lead until two outs in the seventh inning, when Valbuena tied the game by driving a 2-0 fastball over the center-field wall. Emilio Pagan replaced Ramirez at that point and got the inning’s final out.
That got the game to Vincent.
“They’re a team that’s going to make contact,” he said. “So I’ve got to be a guy who is going to open the zone a little bit and not throw so many strikes. They’re definitely going to put the ball in play.”
***Tootblan revisited: The Alphonse and Gaston routine (Google it, youngsters) by Upton and Trout in the second inning bailed out the Mariners from another Tootblan breakdown.
The Mariners had runners at first and third with one out when Mitch Haniger tried to steal second base. He was thrown out easily by Angels catcher Martin Maldonado, who should get some Gold Glove consideration.
“A missed communication,” Servais said. “He missed a sign. He thought he saw something that he didn’t. Mitch is probably one of our most heads-up players. I was as surprised as anybody that he took off.”
That left the Mariners with a runner at third with two outs. Bridwell should have escaped the inning with no damage when Gamel sent a catchable fly to left-center field that neither Upton nor Trout caught.
Tootblan bonus: One inning later, Nelson Cruz tried to advance to second base with two outs when a ball got away from Maldonado. Not far enough. Maldonado threw out Cruz for the inning’s final out.
The Mariners have been better in recent weeks in avoiding outs on the bases but still entered Sunday at minus-9.1 runs in the all-purpose BsR baserunning metric compiled by Fangraphs.com. That ranked 25th among the 30 clubs.
(Tootblan is an all-purpose acronym for baserunning mistakes: “Thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop.”)
***“Too much confidence”: Ramirez held the Angels to two runs and over 6 2/3 innings for his sixth straight quality start, which roughly correlates to the point at which he got stretched out after serving as a long reliever while at Tampa Bay.
One problem: For a third straight game, the only runs that Ramirez permitted came on a pair of solo home runs.
“I don’t know why,” he said, “but every time I have men on base, the pitches just work way better. It looks like I execute better. When I get runners on, I try to keep the ball inside the ballpark more.
“Maybe when I see nobody on base, I have too much confidence. Maybe I’m too comfortable. They make me pay for being so comfortable.”
***What a waste: The outing by Ramirez provided the Mariners with their seventh consecutive quality start which, not surprisingly, is a season-best streak from what has been a patchwork rotation.
“It’s been huge,” Servais said. “That’s why we’ve been playing consistent baseball. Every ballgame on this homestand, we were right in the game.”
In them but not winning them. The Mariners went 3-4 over the past seven games in large part because their bullpen allowed 13 earned runs over 20 1/3 innings in that span.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners