(Here is today’s Mariners minor-league report).
Endy Chavez, shown above celebrating his go-ahead, pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning, got to be a hero for about five minutes today, long enough for Tom Wilhelmsen to blow his first save of the season by giving up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. And doing so in forehead-slapping fashion, dropping a throw from Justin Smoak (who had made a diving stop) while covering first for what would have been the game-ending out.
Smoak then hit a homer in the 10th, and got to be a hero for about five more minutes, long enough for Charlie Furbush to not only blow the save, but the game, by giving up a three-run homer to Yan Gomes in the bottom of the 10th.
Yeah, THE Yan Gomes.
It’s hard to imagine a more heartbreaking, agonizing series for the Mariners.
In the first game on Friday, they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game on a two-run homer by Raul Ibanez in the sixth, only to have Lucas Luetge give up a three-run, walk-off homer to Jason Kipnis in the bottom of the 10th. On Saturday, they fought back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game in the ninth on back-to-back, two-out homers from Ibanez and Smoak, only to give up the winning run in the bottom of the inning — when Jesus Montero didn’t keep his foot on home plate on what should have been a force out. On Sunday, they lost when their ace, Felix Hernandez, gave up six runs in five innings, and they managed just four hits.
And then there was today’s roller-coaster, in which they had it won twice, until they didn’t. Throw in the first game of this roadtrip, when the Mariners couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead against the Yankees with Hernandez on the mound — that was the game he tweaked his back, and had to come out after six — and it’s been one body blow after another. You can’t deny they’ve battled, but you also can’t deny that the bullpen, and defense, have both been inadequate during this stretch.
I’ll let Geoff, who is in Cleveland, explain why Eric Wedge didn’t send out Wilhelmsen for a second inning, which is the No. 1 second-guess from this game. I would have done so, I believe, but I understand the arguments against — mainly, pitch count. Wilhelmsen had thrown 22 in the ninth. Add another 15, and you’re getting close to 40, which is an awful lot for a short reliever. Wilhelmsen has worked two innings once this season (against Detroit on April 17), and had a peak pitch count of 34 way back on April 5, his second outing of the year. Since then, Wilhelmsen had not gone over 23 pitches; last year, he exceeded 30 just three times, with a high of 37 (before he became closer).
Contrary to the belief of those adamantly ripping Wedge, there is no right or wrong answer to this one. The manager has to look at the big picture. Going back out for a second inning can be problematic for a guy who’s not used to it — Stephen Pryor landed on the disabled list after such an instance earlier this year. On the other hand, Wilhelmsen was rested (he hadn’t pitched since Thursday) and has gone beyond one inning a few times since he became closer. But Furbush had pitched 3 2/3 innings in two appearances in this series without allowing a Cleveland baserunner, striking out five. Of course, he had blown a game in New York earlier on this road trip. Here’s the best answer to this dilemma: Wilhelmsen should have caught Smoak’s toss.
The question now is whether the Mariners will use these tough losses as motivation, or if the cumulative effect will be a demoralizing one. I’ve seen it work both ways. The most recent stretch I can remember that equates to this one for pure heartbreak occurred in 2011, when closer Brandon League had about as bad a week as I’ve ever seen. He lost a game to the White Sox in Seattle on Sunday, and then after a travel day, blew saves in walk-off fashion on Tuesday in Baltimore, Thursday in Baltimore, and Friday in Cleveland. (On Wednesday in Baltimore, Felix Hernandez was beaten by the Orioles). Mercifully, the final two game in Cleveland were rained out.
If ever a team should have been demoralized, it was that one. It was right about the same point in the season — Wedge’s first in Seattle. The final loss in Cleveland, on May 13, dropped their record to 16-23. The Mariners currently are 20-25. In 2011, the Mariners responded by winning 14 of their next 17 games, to put their record at 30-27. They eventually collapsed, losing 17 straight in July, but they did survive, and even thrive for awhile, after that week-long string of agonizing losses. Now we’ll find out if they can this time.