Well, it’s not every day that you see a pitcher making the final out of the game in the American League. But that’s what happened to the Mariners in today’s 11th inning as Joe Saunders was sent to the plate with two out and none on.
The buzz in the stadium was palpable, a mix of bewilderment and disgust from fans who had watched the team battle for 11 innings only to serve up a .136-hitting white flag when they were one out from defeat. In the end, Saunders put a good swing on the ball and lofted a flyout to left-center. It wasn’t Saunders’s fault that he was stuck hitting in what became a 5-3 defeat to the Chicago Cubs.
The Mariners had depleted their bench and burned their DH trying to overcome a late deficit as well as a sprained thumb suffered by center fielder Dustin Ackley.
And in the end, the move that wound up costing them their DH was a wasted one. The Mariners put Jason Bay in to pinch-run for Kendrys Morales after his single with one out in the eighth inning and Seattle down 3-2. Bay thought he could get a good jump towards second base to stay out of a double play. But left-handed pitcher James Russell threw over to first base instead and Bay had no choice to continue on to second, where he was an easy out.
“I was going, but I can’t get picked off,” Bay told me. “So, I’ve got to wait until he goes to the plate and try to stay out of the double play. And based on the pitches before, I thought I’d seen something that led me to believe I could take it earlier. And I was wrong.”
Clearly, a 34-year-old veteran can’t make a mistake like that. Bay owned it, as he had to.
The play hurt even more when Raul Ibanez doubled right after. Then, Justin Smoak singled and Ibanez was waved around aggressively and thrown out at home.
So, the Mariners got zero runs in an inning in which they had three hits — one of them a double — and the opposing pitcher was struggling to get outs without major help.
The Mariners wound up tying it in the ninth on an Endy Chavez single, but it almost felt too late at the point because of what had happened to Ackley in the top of the inning, right after Bay’s botch-up.
Ackley sprained his thumb diving for a ball in left center. He had to leave the game and with Michael Saunders already hurt, the Mariners had to stick Chavez in center. Problem is, he was already playing right field, meaning somebody else had to play that spot and the only guy left was Bay.
But putting Bay in meant sacrificing the DH and that twice came back to haunt the Mariners with them down to their last outs and trying to score.
They got away with it the first time as Henry Blanco pinch-hit for pitcher Charlie Furbush — due up in Ackley’s old spot — and drew a leadoff walk in the ninth. Michael Saunders was able to pinch-run and took Blanco’s spot and wound up scoring the tying marker on the Chavez single, which snapped an 0-for-19 slump for him.
But that depleted the remaining bench and the game was still headed to extras.
The Mariners barely escaped the 10th and then Oliver Perez saw his 12-inning scoreless streak snapped in the 11th when Alfonso Soriano golfed a all over the center field wall. Interestingly enough, Perez felt he got his fastball too low and wanted it more up in the zone.
“Normally, you try to keep the ball down and you can be successful,’’ Perez said. “But everybody knows that Soriano is a good low-ball hitter. He just golfs the ball. And that’s what happened.’’
Then came the bottom of the 11th when Ackley’s spot was again due up. Perez thought he might be left in the game to hit, but was told it would be Saunders — a career .136 hitter and 0-for-2 previously this year.
“I had an inkling that I was going to maybe get an at-bat,’’ Saunders said. “Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. But you’ve got to get up there and try to do your job. I was just trying to get on-base.’’
In the end, as I said, it’s not his fault.
Just too bad that the game had to come down to something like that because of a pinch-running decision that lasted only a few seconds and ended in what was effectively a pickoff.
The Mariners say Ackley’s thumb is not broken but that he will miss a few days.
Michael Saunders says he’ll try to play tomorrow and that will depend on his being able to swing a bat. Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he might have him back tomorrow.
If not, the team will go with Chavez in center and Bay as his emergency backup at that spot.
“Today was just one of those fluke games,’’ Wedge said. “When you’re banged up coming in and then somebody else gets hurt and you’re trying to tie the ballgame and come back, sometimes these things happen.’’