It didn’t seem like there were many ways the Mariners were going to blow a game in which the opposing starter could barely find his catcher’s mitt, let alone the strike zone.
And yet, after the Mariners allowed A.J. Burnett to dance in and out of trouble for three innings, the home side suddenly forgot how to make contact.
Not too surprising, since they’d engaged in a weekend strikeout fiesta against the Kansas City Royals, of all teams. Against the Yankees, the M’s tonight whiffed another 17 times in tumbling to a 3-2 loss.
Seattle has struck out 1,155 times this season. The franchise record is 1,184, set just last season.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge wasn’t too pleased after the game.
“It’s too much right now,” Wedge said of all the strikeouts. “It’s a combination of some called thirds and some swing throughs. I think some of these kids have been trying to do too much.”
Wedge noted that Burnett does have some “great stuff”. You’ll remember, he once threw a no-hitter in a nine-walk game, so you know he can make guys miss. But Wedge felt the M’s missed far too many hittable pitches.
“We got some pitches to hit that we missed,” he said. “Where we either got too big (with their swings) or in-between.”
Ichiro was caught stealing at second to end the game, securing the 600th career save for Mariano Rivera. Replays appeared to show he was out, but that’s kind of beside the point.
When you whiff 17 times, it’s tough to win the game.
How bad was Burnett in the early going? So bad that his team thought he was hurt in the third inning and had the manager and trainer visit the mound. Burnett told them he was fine — just pitching his usual bad way. OK, he probably didn’t say that. But it was evident to all watching.
And then, just as the Yanks were about to pull the plug with a reliever up in the bullpen and two runners in scoring position, Adam Kennedy struck out to end the third inning with the count full.
“Ichiro and I have been as guilty as anybody about that,” Kennedy, who fanned three times, said of the double-digit strikeout numbers piling up for the team this month.
Kennedy and Ichiro are pretty much the only veteran regulars still playing for this team. He knows the young players have been taking a lot of the heat for the strikeout numbers, but said some of the starters and relievers faced the last few days have been extra tough.
“You hope it’s just because of who we’re facing for a short period of time here and it’s not a trend,” Kennedy said.
He was referring to 12 and 15-strikeout games becoming a trend. Not the team’s season-long propensity to strike out a lot, which has obviously been a trend for a long time.
Burnett would go on to whiff seven of his final 11 hitters and notch a season-high 11 K on the night. All this from a guy on-the-ropes and about to hit the canvas less than three innings in.
Seattle whiffed six more times the final three innings against three different pitchers who kept putting baserunners on.
Wedge said that, with Rivera looming in the ninth, he tried to pull out all the stops to score in the eighth when Seattle loaded the bases with two out on David Robertson. Casper Wells had struck out three times already so Wedge pinch-hit Trayvon Robinson instead. He’d also put pinch-runner Michael Saunders in the game for Justin Smoak as well. Robinson struck out to end the threat.
“There are certain guys that, when they’re in the middle of their best, you have to approach it that way,” Wedge said of making his moves an inning early with Rivera set to work the ninth. “The difference with Rivera is, he’s been that way for 15 years.”
This is indeed a team in transition. As we know and Wedge keeps confirming, it’s trying to work at being aggressive on hittable pitches early in counts. It needs more work.
Brendan Ryan left the game when his upper back seized up on him. Ryan felt some stiffness in the first inning and by the sixth, it had worked up his neck to the point he couldn’t turn his head. He’s day-to-day.