A too-familiar bugaboo returned Wednesday to bite the Seattle Mariners in a 4-2 loss to San Diego and halt their season-best winning streak at four games.
A failure to produce with runners in scoring position.
The Mariners repeatedly let Padres starter James Shields off the hook; 10 times, in fact, over six innings before San Diego turned to its bullpen to gain a split in the two-game series.
“I’ve seen Shields a lot,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “I would say he’s the same guy he always is. He’s never going to give in. He’s the kind of guy who is always going to die (believing) in his pitches.”
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The first inning set the tone.
Seth Smith led off with a single and went to second on a passed ball before Brad Miller walked, but Shields escaped against the heart of the Mariners’ order.
Cano chased a 2-2 pitch wide of the zone for a strikeout. Nelson Cruz chased a 2-2 pitch up and out of the zone for a strikeout. And Kyle Seager hit a weak grounder to second.
Contrast that with Tuesday’s series opener, when the Mariners jumped Ian Kennedy for four runs in the first inning in rolling to an 11-4 victory.
Loop ahead to the sixth. The Mariners trailed 2-1 when Seager and Logan Morrison started the inning with walks that pushed Shields’ pitch count to 108.
Again nothing: Shields struck out Mike Zunino and escaped when Dustin Ackley grounded into a double play.
“He did a really good job of buckling down all night,” Miller said. “When we got guys on, he kind of halted the rally by making some really good pitches.”
Shields (5-0) gave up six hits while striking out nine and walking three.
“I saw multiple times that Shields had to make a big pitch and did,” Padres manager Bud Black said. “He’s proven over time that he can make pitches. The way he cinched his belt and got it done was great.”
When a bullpen relay of ex-Mariner Brandon Maurer, Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel closed out the victory, Shields became the first Padres pitcher to open the season with five victories since Justin Germano in 2007.
That’s the same Germano who, now 32, is currently pitching at Triple-A Tacoma, where he is 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA. (A point to note: Germano finished 2007 at 7-10.)
Kimbrell gave up one run in the ninth before securing his 10th save.
Mariners starter Taijuan Walker (1-4) delivered a quality start — just his second in seven outings — by using a simple strategy to limit the Padres to two runs in six innings.
“I’ve just got to attack with the fastball,” he said, “until teams show an ability to jump on the fastball. For now, I just want to attack with the fastball and get ahead.”
Even so, Walker was down a run when he gave way to Joe Beimel, who yielded a run in the seventh on Abraham Almonte’s two-out RBI single. The Padres added their final run in the eighth on a wild pitch by Carson Smith.
The Mariners had been better lately with runners in scoring position — a .280 average in May prior to Wednesday — but still entered the game ranked 11th among the 15 American League clubs with a .234 season average.
“The positive is we got them out there,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “The negative is we couldn’t get them in. That guy on the mound had a lot to do with that, too.
“I thought we had we good at-bats against (Shields). Really grinded it out. Got his pitch count up. We had him on the brink a few times. We just couldn’t get the big hit to get us over the hump.”
Walker gave up both of his runs in the third. Will Middlebrooks started the inning by driving a 1-1 fastball over the left-field wall for a homer.
Alexi Amarista followed with a double into the left-field corner. He went to third on Almonte’s sacrifice bunt, which pulled the infield in for Cory Spangenberg.
It didn’t matter. Spangenberg hit a foul fly to deep left, which produced the run for a 2-0 lead.
The Mariners had a chance in the fourth when two singles put runners at first and second with one out — the second single, a low liner by Morrison, had Shields ducking to avoid a beaning.
But Shields struck out Zunino and Ackley.
The Mariners finally broke through on Miller’s two-out homer in the fifth — a 436-foot bomb to center on a 3-1 fastball. Cano followed with a single to right and stole second, but Cruz struck out.
Shields always had an answer.
“He’s an ace, obviously,” Miller said. “He’s got a good mix, and he knows how to execute it.”