UPDATED WITH POST-GAME QUOTES
David Aardsma could not get the outs he needed in the ninth, giving up a tying sacrifice fly to Brandon Inge, then the decisive single to Clete Thomas in a 7-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Aardsma wasn’t happy with himself afterwards, especially with the leadoff walk he issued to Carlos Guillen.
Aardsma has blown four saves so far and has walked the leadoff guy in three of those and the second hitter in another.
“If you go out there and get that first batter out, it makes the whole inning so much easier,” he said. “That first walk, it sets the tone for the entire inning.”
Miguel Cabrera then lined a double to right with one out to put runners at second and third. An intentional walk loaded the bases and then the tying run scored on a bases-loaded flyball by Brandon Inge to shallow right center. Franklin Gutierrez made a strong throw home, but the ball got by catcher Kenji Johjima on a collision at the plate.
Both runners advanced to second and third and then Thomas lined a ball into right field for the walk-off win.
Aardsma has blown two saves in his last three chances. He also blew one six weeks ago after just one torch job the first three months of the season.
Some of this was bound to happen, given that few closers go an entire year blowing only a couple of saves. But coming just two days after Mark Lowe’s second straight blown save, manager Don Wakamatsu was asked whether some of his young arms were feeling the strain or the inexperience of their situation.
“I think it’s a little of both,” Wakamatsu said. “No. 1, I think the wear and tear gets to you a little bit. But the second part of that, for me, is getting used to that, for a lot of these guys, it’s their first go-around to be able to pitch throughout a full season.
“Especially with the intensity,” he added. “To have that many one-run ballgames, it’s not an easy game.”
Aardsma is already at a career high for innings and appearances, Lowe is nearing his, while Sean White has gone over his and rookies Shawn Kelley and Chris Jakubauskas have surpassed theirs. I asked Aardsma what he can do to protect himself from running out of gas near the end.
“I’m not trying to change anything,” he said. “I just go out every day and do the same thing. I’ve got to make sure that I’m still staying on top of working out, conditioning, taking care of my body. I really try to make sure from Day 1 that I’m doing that. I just go out there and try to take care of myself.”
Again, he said. the leadoff walk is what really put him in trouble.
“That first walk is really what killed it,” he said. “We killed it right off the bat. Had you gotten the guy out, then Cabrera gets that double, great, he got the double, but then you get the pop up (to right center by Inge) and its game over. That was really it. That’s the only big hit, other than a good pitch to Clete (Thomas). But the double doesn’t hurt you without the walk.”
For those wondering, Jakubauskas said he felt a cramp at the back of his shoulder blade on his 0-2 pitch to Alex Avila in the sixth. On the next pitch, Wakamatsu and trainer Rick Griffin sprinted to the mound, having seen Jakubauskas shake his arm like it was hurt.
Jakubauskas stayed in the game and said he didn’t feel anything the rest of the way. But his next pitch to Avila was grounded into center for a two-run single that turned a 6-3 lead into a 6-5 nailbiter.
It was tough to tell which starting pitcher had the worst day.
In one corner, ex-Mariners lefty Jarrod Washburn gave up six runs on four homers in six innings. But he also struck out four and walked one.
On the other hand, you had Ryan Rowland-Smith, who gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings, walked four guys, struck out four, issued a balk and couldn’t get ahead of hitters despite being handed leads of 4-0 and 6-2. He was also helped out immesely by two brilliant defensive plays — especially a running catch by Gutierrez in the fourth.
Tough to tell which starter was worse. I’d say it’s a toss-up.
But the M’s lost today, in part, because Rowland-Smith couldn’t lock things down.
“I had a little concentration lapse there and it cost us big-time,” he said.
Rowland-Smith had taken a line drive off his right calf in the first inning, but said it really didn’t bother him much. That liner was the only hit he gave up the first three innings. But you could see his game start to go downhill in the fourth, when he allowed two homers, the blast that was caught by Gutierrez and another near homer that went just foul.
By the sixth, he’d lost it completely, loading the bases on a four-pitch walk and letting out an expletive that could be heard more than 30 rows from the field.
“At that point, the ball just wasn’t coming out of my hand like it normally does,” he said. “I was really battling myself to find my command.”
Washburn wasn’t overly critical of his own perfromance.
“It wasn’t that bad,” he told reporters. “I gave up four home runs, but two were wind-blown
and would’ve been outs any other day. Unfortunately, those still count.”
The “wind blown” ones were by Kenji Johjima and a broken bat shot by Mike Sweeney.
Washburn said he tried to block out the fact he was facing the M’s.
“It didn’t feel any different than any other game once I got out there,” he said.
“I was text messaging before the game, then I tried to block out that the
guy in the box was a friend two weeks ago.”
Thing is, neither starter looked all that good.
The defense was far better.
I’ve mentioned the plays by Gutierrez, the second of which, on a racing catch in the eighth, likely saved at least one run if not two. So did an over-the-shoulder/head catch by Josh Wilson in the eighth.
Wilson thought that play was even tougher than his first inning glove play deep in the hole and throw to first for the out.
“I thought it was going to fall in,” he admitted. “Right away, I thought it was going toi kind of be over my head. When I broke on it, I didn’t get a straight back break. I took one step and then was battling to get back underneath it. When I finally looked up at the very end and saw it, I just kind of flailed at it.”
And the ball landed in his glove. Still, it wasn’t enough.