Mariners left fielder Nori Aoki tried for a sliding catch Wednesday on Josh Harrison’s sinking leadoff liner in the third inning. If he couldn’t catch the ball, Aoki was hoping to block it for a single.
He did neither.
The result was a triple that opened the way to three runs, starting Pittsburgh toward a 10-1 rout that forced the Mariners to settle for a split in the two-game series at PNC Park.
“I thought I got pretty close,” Aoki said, “but the ball came out (of the lights) at the last second. I tried to stop it with my body, and it got past me.”
There was more – a lot more, actually – but it was mere icing, notable primarily for Drew Storen’s rough debut and the Mariners’ inability to muster much against Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole.
“His strikeout pitches, he was keeping them at the bottom of the zone,” shortstop Shawn O’Malley said. “When a guy is throwing 98 miles an hour, it’s hard to cover everything. He was on tonight, and we weren’t.”
It was a thorough beating.
Mariners starter James Paxton (3-5) stumbled only in the third inning, but it was that three-run stumble that began with Harrison’s leadoff triple.
Still … it was just 3-1 when Storen replaced Paxton to start the sixth inning. Storen worked a one-two-three sixth before running into trouble after Cole start ed the seventh with a single.
Jordy Mercer’s bunt single moved Cole to second. Storen struck out David Freese, but Andrew McCutchen’s soft single to right loaded the bases with one out.
A walk to Starling Marte forced in a run, and finished Storen, but his final line took a beating when Jung Ho Kang ripped Nathan Karns’ first pitch past third for a three-run double.
All three runs were charged to Storen, who allowed four runs over 1 1/3 innings after joining the Mariners from Toronto in a late-Tuesday trade for reliever Joaquin Benoit.
Storen chose to see positives.
“A couple of things didn’t go my way,” he said. “That’s part of it. For me, it’s just (whether) I throw the ball well. I thought I did.
“The stats might not look good, but from a stuff standpoint and how I threw it, I was happy with it.”
Pittsburgh added a three-run homer from McCutchen in the eighth inning against David Rollins. The Pirates finished with 14 hits, including three apiece from McCutchen and Mercer.
By contrast, Cole (6-6) limited the Mariners to one run and three hits while pitching the first complete game of his four-year career. Aoki had two of those hits with leadoff doubles in the first and sixth innings.
“(Cole) threw the ball really well,” manager Scott Servais said. “I think that’s the first complete game we’ve had against us all year.
“We ran the pitch count up on him in the first inning, but after that, he got in a pretty good groove.”
The loss dropped the Mariners to 51-49. The have a day off Thursday before opening a three-game weekend series against the Cubs in Chicago.
The Pirates backed Cole with the only runs he needed in their three-run third inning.
After Harrison led off with a triple, Paxton struck out Cole on three pitches, but Mercer lined a double past third against a shortened infield.
Mercer held second on Freese’s single to deep short before McCutchen drove an RBI double into the right-center gap. When Paxton nicked Marte with a pitch, the Pirates had the bases loaded with one out.
Kang then worked back from 0-2 hole for a walk, which forced in a run for a 3-0 lead, before Paxton avoided further trouble by retiring the next two batters.
“I was pulling early on my front side,” Paxton said, “so my location wasn’t great. They hit some OK pitches there, and I left a couple up that hurt. The (bases-loaded) walk there really doesn’t help. I can’t do that right there.”
The Mariners’ only run came in the sixth inning after Aoki’s second leadoff double. He went to third on Seth Smith’s grounder to first and scored on Robinson Cano’s sacrifice fly to deep center.
That was it, though.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Freese and Cole turned Aoki’s one-out grounder to first in the third inning into a circus play.
Freese flipped the ball behind his back after making the pickup, and Cole caught it barehanded while racing from the mound to beat Aoki to first base.
PLUS: Pretty thin stuff here. Kyle Seager went 1 for 3 and has hits in his past 11 road games. … Aoki had two doubles in four at-bats, and he made a bid for a third one in the eighth inning. Pittsburgh right fielder Sean Rodriguez ran down the ball in the gap.
MINUS: Karns let the game get away when he yielded a three-run double on his first pitch after replacing Storen. … Rollins has a 7.04 ERA in nine games after giving up McCutchen’s three-run homer in the eighth inning.
QUOTABLE: Servais appeared to second-guess himself somewhat in choosing to send Storen back for the seventh inning after a one-two-three sixth.
Storen pitched longer than one inning once in 38 appearances this year for Toronto.
“I probably pushed the envelope a little too far,” Servais said, “but I liked what I saw. He’s going to help us. There’s no doubt.”
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners