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August 18, 2009 at 9:04 PM

Mariners blow game in eighth, with help from sloppy fielding

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Not a good way for the Mariners to lose this game. Or for Felix Hernandez to be denied a needed win as he competes for a Cy Young Award. Wins do matter in Cy Young voting, like it or not. And in a close race, they could be even more important.
Hernandez lowered his ERA to 2.66. That’s just behind the 2.65 of Roy Halladay for second spot. Zack Greinke is at 2.33 for the league lead. Even if Hernandez can’t completely catch Greinke, his win total and differential has a good chance of being better than that of the 11-7 Kansas City pitcher.
if Hernandez was to finish, say, 17-4, those added wins would be huge if you’re talking about an ERA difference of 2.50 to 2.40, or something close. So, that’s stuff to ponder alongside this tough 5-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
So are those fielding mistakes by Seattle in the four-run Detroit eighth inning against reliever Mark Lowe. There was the fielding error by Josh Wilson, who overran the chopper to help open the floodgates. And then, the high throw by Russell Branyan on what was ruled a steal of home by Ryan Raburn. Thing is, Raburn should never have stolen home if the M’s had properly executed a rundown between first and second.
That add-on run was enormous in the ninth.
Hard to believe the Tigers had not lost a game all year in which they’d led in the ninth inning. They still haven’t, but Fernando Rodney let the M’s get the tying run into scoring position on two hits and a steal before retiring the side.
Now, on to the mistakes.

Hernandez left with a 3-1 lead after seven. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu might have let him go deeper had those problematic leg cramps Hernandez experienced his previous start not returned. But they hit in the fifth, continued in the sixth and prompted the manager to allow Hernandez only one more frame in the seventh.
Hernandez insisted the cramps are not serious.
“It was the same thing that happened the last game,” he said. “No big deal.”
And he sure didn;t pitch like it was a problem. Hernandez notched nine strikeouts, six of them against the final dozen batters he faced.
He said he felt a little too strong early on after the extra day’s rest and that’s why his pitch count got up to 40 after two innings. But remember, he also nearly made it out of the game without giving up a run.
If not for that second inning, when Clete Thomas got a second life on that fan interference play that wasn’t called, Hernandez might not have allowed anything. But Thomas got on and later scored on a two-out single by Adam Everett.
Third base umpire Sam Holbrook ruled that the play wasn’t fan interference — despite a gloved fan reaching out three feet from the stands and taking the ball away from a sliding Ryan Langerhans as he was about to catch the foul pop-up.
His reasoning?
“He said he saw the fan interfere but because because he (Langerhans) was sliding and it wasn’t just a routine catch, he couldn’t just award him that,” said Wakamatsu, who ran out to argue. “My retort to him was ‘OK, so when a guy jumps at the wall, is that a routine play when a fan interferes at the wall?’ ”
Langerhans said afterwards that: “I didn’t even see him (the fan). I was locked-in on the ball.”
Later, he looked at the play on video, and was surprised to see the fan’s glove sticking so far out in the field of play.
“i know he hit my glove with his when he went for the ball,” Langerhans said, adding that he’s pretty confident he would have caught the ball.
Instead, Hernandez gave up his only earned run of the night moments later.
As for the eighth-inning miscues, Wakamatsu seemed ready to forgive Wilson’s error.
“That’s a tough play,” he said. “It’s an error but it’s not an easy play because you’ve got to try to catch the ball on a short hop and then still try to make the play at first base.”
The rundown play, especially the actions of Branyan, were another story. Wakamatsu said Branyan did not do the right thing when he took off running after Cabrera, hung up between first and second. That prompted lead runner Rayburn to break for home.
“It’s different if you get burned on a designed play,” he said. “That was not a designed play by those guys.”
What should Branyan have done? Stayed at first base.
“It’s a situation where, when the shortstop’s in the hole, you’ve got to buy yourself some time or it becomes a tougher play,” Wakamatsu said. “He shouldn’t have ran. If he catches the ball and Cabrera’s off the bag, then Cabrera’s in no man’s land and you wait for the play to develop.”
Instead, Branyan — unable to throw over to shortstop Wilson right away to get a quick out on Cabrera — forced Raburn’s hand and the speedy pinch-runner beat the throw to the plate.
Not as easy as it looks to execute that play defensively and let’s face it, the M’s don’t practice these things all that often. Wakamatsu isn’t exactly steamed at Branyan or anything. He just took time to point out that there’s a right and wrong way to do things. This time, the wrong way hurt.
Another hard lesson learned.



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