An early August surge that carried the Mariners into postseason contention is now a fast-fading memory amid a late August fade that, if unchecked, could usher in another meaningless September.
Hisashi Iwakuma, a steadying presence for much the season, lasted just three innings Monday while getting outclassed by Japanese countryman Yu Darvish in a 6-3 loss to the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park.
"Overall, everything was up in the zone from fastballs to breaking balls," Iwakuma said. "It’s hard to say (why). I had a very good bullpen today. Everything was sharp. The breaking ball was tight.
"I just couldn’t bring that over to the (game) in general. It wasn’t like I had bad mechanics. It’s just everything was up in the zone."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
This makes six losses in seven games for the Mariners who, while they remain three games behind fading Baltimore for the American League’s final wild-card berth, now find three other teams between them and the Orioles.
Do the math: The Mariners have 29 games remaining to leap past four clubs — a task that continues Tuesday when the face Texas ace Cole Hamels in the middle game of the series.
That’s the problem, actually. They Mariners are catching some of league’s better pitchers over the last week: CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Chis Sale, Jose Quintana and, on Monday, Darvish.
"It’s very good pitching," manager Scott Servais said, "but what are you going to say? The American League is a really good league…It’s just where we’re at. We’ve just got to continue to grind and hang in there.
"Get a big hit late. Tie the game up. Come from behind if you are down."
None of that is happening.
"We’ve haven’t been getting what we want as an offensive team," designated hitter Nelson Cruz admitted. "Like giving the lead to the bullpen. Stuff like that."
Darvish (5-3) continues to show signs of regaining his form after missing all of last season after undergoing elbow surgery. He gave up one run through six innings before exiting with two on and two outs in the seventh.
"I thought early in the game," Servais said, "he had the liveliest fastball that we’ve seen out of him this year. Much better than it was earlier when we saw him.
"He’s got a new catcher, and I think (Jonathan) Lucroy did a nice job with him."
For all that, reliever Jake Diekman tried to let the Mariners back into the game after replacing Darvish by surrendering a two-run pinch double to Franklin Gutierrez before walking Robinson Cano.
That brought the tying run to the plate and prompted Texas to replace Diekman with Keone Kela, who struck out Nelson Cruz. Both runs were charged to Darvish, whose final line showed three runs in 6 2/3 innings.
"We had a chance to turned it around," Cruz said, "but I wasn’t able to deliver. But we have two more games. We need to step up (Tuesday)."
Kela pitched a scoreless eighth before Sam Dyson closed out Texas’ victory for his 30th save in 34 chances.
The loss dropped the Mariners into third place in the AL West; 9 1/2 games behind first-place Texas and one game behind Houston.
Carlos Beltran opened the scoring with a 408-foot drive to right for a two-out homer in the first inning. It was his 25th homer of the season, and his third since coming to Texas in an Aug. 1 trade with the New York Yankees.
It was also Beltran’s fifth hit in 10 career at-bats against Iwakuma.
Texas extended its lead to 5-0 in a four-run third inning after Elvis Andrus led off with a walk and stole second. Nomar Mazara then pulled an RBI triple past first baseman Adam Lind and into the right-field corner.
Ian Desmond and Beltran followed with successive RBI doubles. Iwakuma retired the next two hitters before Lucroy flicked an RBI single into center. Mitch Moreland walked, but Carlos Gomez struck out.
Iwakuma threw 40 pitches in the inning.
The Mariners got one run back in the fourth on Adam Lind’s two-out RBI double, but Iwakuma did not return for the bottom of the inning.
Iwakuma (14-10) has lost three in a row and, after giving up five runs in three innings, saw his ERA nudge past four at 4.01.
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his Mariners debut in replacing Iwakuma and provided a highlight by holding the Rangers to one unearned run over three innings while striking out five.
The hole was too big. The gap in the standings is getting that way, too.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Former Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin took a home run away from the Rangers current center fielder, Ian Desmond, by reaching about the wall in right-center field for catch after a long run.
Desmond led off the Texas seventh inning against drove a 98-mph fastball for Arquimedes Caminero to deep right-center field. Martin made a leaping catch and held the ball aloft as he fell to the ground.
PLUS: Reliever Pat Venditte worked three strong innings, which also matched the longest outing of his career.…Robinson Cano went 2-for-3 with a walk and boosted his average back to .301…Franklin Gutierrez’s two-run pinch double positioned the Mariners for a possible comeback.
MINUS: Mike Zunino struck out four times and had a passed ball that led to an unearned run…Hisashi Iwakuma matched a season low by only lasting three innings. He also exited after three innings on July 29 in a 12-1 loss to the Cubs in Chicago.
STAT PACK: When Ketel Marte stole second base in the third inning, it was the 10th successful steal in 10 attempts this season by opponents when Texas starter Yu Darvish is on the mound.
QUOTABLE: Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte said he finds it easier to face a mix of left- and right-handed hitters than a series of hitters from the same side of the plate.
"It’s actually a little more conducive when you face right-left, right-left like (the Rangers’ lineup)," he said. "If you have seven righties in a lineup, and they’re stacked, you could go 30 or 40 minutes without throwing a pitch left-handed. It helps me a bit when it’s staggered like that."
SHORT HOPS: Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus got his 20th steal when he swiped second base in the third inning. He has at least 20 in each of his eight career seasons…the Rangers hold a 9-4 edge in the season series with six games remaining…the five runs allowed by Hisashi Iwakuma were the most in his 18 career starts against the Rangers.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
AL wild card standings
Note: Top two teams win wild-card playoff berths