Traction remains maddening elusive for the Seattle Mariners as the All-Star break approaches.
A pulsating walk-off victory Tuesday night in 11 innings produced no follow-up momentum Wednesday afternoon in a 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Safeco Field.
The biggest bugaboo was all-too-familiar: The Mariners were hitless in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Yep, squat-for-14 with RISP in a one-run loss.
“We had a bunch of chances — me in particular,” said Dustin Ackley, who hit a two-run homer but also stranded five runners. “I had a couple of more (chances) with guys on base with two outs, and I wasn’t able to get it done.”
He had company.
“We scored four runs,” acting manager Trent Jewett said. “Obviously, we had plenty of opportunities to push a lot more across. Didn’t get that done. You’d certainly like to be more efficient in those spots, and we weren’t.
“I don’t think it’s completely uncommon to us. It’s happened previously.”
So here they sit, still spinning their wheels at 39-46, with just a four-game series against American League West-rival Los Angeles before the four-game break arrives.
The Tigers and Mariners combined for 14 homers over the three-game series, which matched a Safeco Field record. Detroit had nine of them, but the winning run Wednesday scored on a sacrifice fly.
It was 4-4 in the seventh inning when rookie Mayckol Guaipe, after a scoreless sixth, gave up one-out singles to Yoenis Cespedes and and Victor Martinez before loading the bases by hitting J.D. Martinez.
Nick Castellanos sent a fly to center that was deep enough to score Cespedes with the go-ahead run, but Martinez was thrown out in trying to advance to third.
The run counted because Cespedes crossed the plate before the third out.
That was the difference.
Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez (8-7) exited after a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz in the seventh on his 113th pitch. Blaine Hardy struck out pinch hitter Franklin Gutierrez before the Tigers went to their bullpen again.
Al Albuquerque gave up a single to Mark Trumbo that moved Cruz to second but retired Dustin Ackley on a fly to left. Albuquerque worked through the eighth before Joakim Soria closed out the victory.
The Mariners didn’t go quietly.
Soria issued a pair of two-out walks before striking out Trumbo, who had three of the Mariners’ six hits, on a split-finger fastball on a full count.
“I saw every one of his pitches,” Trumbo said. “The pitch to hit was probably the breaking ball that I fouled off. That’s 20 miles an hour slower than his fastball. Then he threw a nice split-finger to end it.
“There’s a reason he’s a pretty good pitcher.”
Guaipe (0-2) was the loser for the second time in three days.
The Mariners had just pulled even at 4-4 on Ackley’s two-run homer in the fourth when lefty starter J.A. Happ started the fifth inning by walking Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez.
That finished Happ, who labored through 103 pitches in four-plus innings in part because some suspect defense extended Detroit’s three-run second inning.
“It’s tough when you make your pitch, and they’re getting hits, to trust that it’s going to stop,” Happ said. “Sometimes, you tend to try to do a little too much. That may have been what happened today.”
Mark Lowe cleaned up Happ’s mess in the fifth before the Mariners, their bullpen thinned by Tuesday’s game, turned again to a pair of just-promoted rookies, Guaipe and David Rollins, over the closing innings.
The pair were better than Monday, when they yielded a combined seven runs and nine hits in one inning. Just not quite good enough.
“I felt all of our pitchers, including Happ, gave us an opportunity to win the game,” Jewett said. “I think Happ had some breaks that didn’t necessarily reflect his performance.
“I’m not saying it was his best performance, but there were some unfortunate things that happened.”
Asked for specifics, Jewett dodged: “That’s all I’m going to say about it.”
It’s likely he was referring to aspects of the Detroit second inning.
J.D. Martinez led off with a single to left and went to second on a pitch that got past backup catcher Jesus Sucre for a sloppy passed ball.
Castellanos grounded a single through the left side, and third base coach Dave Clark didn’t hesitate to wave home Martinez, who scored easily ahead of a weak throw from Ackley.
When third baseman Kyle Seager chose not the cut off the throw, Castellanos took second. Jefry Marte then got his first major league hit and first big league RBI by slicing a double past first baseman Trumbo.
Marte took third on a wild pitch that Sucre probably should have blocked before Iglesias pumped an RBI double into the right-center field gap for a 3-0 lead.
The Mariners clawed their back by turning leadoff doubles by Trumbo and Seager into single runs in the second and third. After Marte hit a one-out homer in the fourth, Ackley answered with a two-run shot later in the inning.
In the end, though, it’s hard to get past 0 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
“I think the situation can kind of get the best of us sometimes,” Ackley said. “We’re trying to do too much and win it ourselves instead of keeping it simple.”