UPDATED WITH POST-GAME QUOTES
This is what happens when you don’t score a run after the first inning. When you get Mike Sweeney to third base with none out in the eighth and fail to bring him home. What is this, spring training all over again? Not good. The offense failed once again tonight and the Mariners lost, 4-3, on a Luis Valbuena home run in the bottom of the 11th off Randy Messenger.
Yes, they shot him. Got that joke out of the way. Ha, ha…OK, everyone happy? Let’s move on.
Messenger seemed to be doing OK, notching the first two outs of the inning, only to have Valbuena, his former teammate at AAA and breifly with the Mariners last season, jump ahead 2-0 in the count.
“In that situation, you pretty much know a fastball’s coming,” Messenger said. “I didn’t want to walk him there, he guessed right and jumped on it. Game over.”
A good outing by Doug Fister was wasted when Michael Saunders failed to squeeze a line drive to left field in the seventh by Valbuena. The two-base error led to the tying run on a sacrifice fly. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu had been prepared to let him go up to 110 pitches and try for a complete game, even though the right hander admitted he didn’t have his best stuff.
But the Saunders error and ensuing hit batter prompted Wakamatsu to bring in Mark Lowe and try for a strikeout.
Saunders then failed to execute a bunt in the ninth with Josh “Hack” Wilson at first base after a leadoff walk. The bunt was popped up, right into the glove of charging first baseman Andy Marte and another rally was soon thwarted.
I asked Saunders afterwards whether he was still thinking about the missed line drive when he came to the plate.
“I was trying to get that out of my head as soon as possible,” he said. “I was just trying to get the job done and popped it up.”
Saunders admitted he got a poor read on the line drive from the get-go.
Wakamatsu said Saunders made a rookie mistake by allowing the ball to drift on him instead of staying on it.
“The ball took off and carried,” Wakamatsu said. “He hit it with a lot more backspin I think, than he initially thought. So, he broke in a little bit, then kind of cruised back on it. You’ll see young players make mistakes like that and the biggest thing is learning from it.
“We’ll be supportive and he’ll be out there working on it.”
That missed bunt by Saunders came after the Sweeney debacle and an inning before Jose Lopez was stranded at third base with one out in the 10th. Lopez opened the inning with a double, then was advanced to third on a terrific bunt by pinch-hitter Ryan Langerhans. But Russell Branyan, who collected his 30th homer of the season in the first inning, went down swinging for the third straight time.
The rally then ended with Bill Hall striking out, as seen in the photo on the opposite page.
Seattle had another chance in the top of the 11th, when Saunders singled with two out. But Ichiro swung at a 3-0 pitch and popped out to second — finishing the night 0-5 with a walk. He’s now 1-for-10 in this series.
Wakamatsu said he sensed a lit of his players becoming less aggressive with runners on base. He saw them taking pitches they’d normally swing at and then hesitating with some half-hearted swings at others.
Branyan in particular was someone Wakamatsu felt was putting too much pressure on himself. He struck out his last three times up, including with runners at third with none out and one out in the eighth and 10th. Wakamatsu spoke to Branyan about it and feels it’s something he has to work on.
And frankly, that’s the theme of the night. All Mariners, young and older, have stuff they need to work on after this game. Whether it’s Ichiro popping up a 3-0 pitch, or Branyan whiffing in key situations and the entire offense really letting Aaron Laffey off the hook, this squad could have done a lot more.
But don’t fret. It’s all part of the rebuilding process. There is no playoff race going on. If there was, Jack Wilson would have been in the lineup a long time ago. This is about building for 2010, seeing how players perform and helping them avoid repeating mistakes and performances like we saw in key situations tonight.
The M’s can still win this series tomorrow, with Felix Hernandez on the mound, and head home with a .500 record.