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The Mariners’ improbable run at a playoff spot likely came to an end with an even more improbable inning of struggles from the one player who seemed above such difficulties.
After three awful outings in the past three games from their starting pitchers, the Mariners turned to Felix Hernandez to make it stop and to somehow keep their fading playoff hopes alive.
But he failed.
In perhaps the biggest start of his 10 seasons in the big leagues, Hernandez had one of his worst outings, giving up a career-high eight runs on seven hits and never making it out of the fifth inning in a dream-crushing 10-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
“It’s real disappointing,” he said in voice just above a whisper. “As an ace, that’s my responsibility. And I let my teammates down. I let my team down. It’s my fault.”
He can take some fault in the defeat, but the Mariners’ disappearing playoff dream was shattered by all those hits and runs allowed over the past four games.
Lloyd McClendon won’t give up hope. It doesn’t work that way for the team manager.
“It’s tough and we’re not playing real well right now and a lot of things are going wrong,” McClendon said. “But we’re still alive, so we’ll wake up tomorrow and try to win a ballgame.”
Sure, mathematically they are still alive at 83-74. Yet nothing about the way they’ve played in the last four days – and really longer than that – would give pause to think they could win their remaining five games. They’ve lost 11 of their last 16 games.
And even if they did win out, they’d need help in the form of massive failures from the Royals or A’s.
It’s beyond doubtful to happen.
The Royals picked up an easy 7-1 win over the Indians to push their lead in the second wild card to three games with five games left.
The Mariners’ season of unexpected success will continue over the next five games, but they likely won’t have the same meaning.
Will Hernandez pitch again in those five games?
He’s scheduled to throw on Sunday at Safeco Field. He’s still a leading contender for the American League Cy Young award along with Cleveland’s Corey Kluber.
If the Mariners are done, they might want to just end his season. He’s thrown 230 1/3 innings – the highest total since 2010.
Of course, Hernandez (14-6) being a competitor, he will want to pitch if for no other reason than not have his season end on such an awful outing.
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But it didn’t start out that way.
After giving up a run in the first inning on an Edwin Encarnacion RBI single, Hernandez seemed to settle in for another quality outing, retiring 11 straight batters.
His teammates even gave him a lead with minimal run support. Robinson Cano’s bases-loaded single off of R.A. Dickey in the third inning put up them up 2-1.
But it was a short-lived lead.
Blue Jays rookie Dalton Pompey led off the fifth inning by crushing a 3-1 fastball deep in the right-field seats for his first big-league homer – not a bad story to be able tell future grandkids.
The inning tumbled downward from there.
Antony Gose doubled down the left-field line and Josh Thole’s sac bunt went for a single when Hernandez mishandled the barehand pickup. Ryan Goins hit a sac fly to score Gose and make it 3-2.
It was still an out and Hernandez was a double play away from getting out of the inning. It never came.
Jose Reyes singled to right and Hernandez walked Jose Bautista to load the bases. And yet things still managed to get worse for the Mariners. Hernandez walked Encarnacion after going up 0-2 on his first pitches to score another run and make it 4-2.
It just wouldn’t end.
Adam Lind singled to right to make it 5-2 and then the Mariners couldn’t quite get a double play on a ground ball from Munenori Kawasaki that allowed a run to score and make it 6-2.
It brought Pompey up to the plate for the second time in the inning. Hernandez walked him on an eight-pitch at-bat to load the bases again. McClendon put an end to the misery, pulling Hernandez from the game.
He called on Dominic Leone to stop the agony. But Leone only added to Hernandez’s number of runs allowed, hitting Gose with a pitch to score a run and giving up an RBI single to Thole. Both of those runs were added to the seven runs charged to Hernandez in the inning – which were the most in his career.
“He just seemed to lose his command in the fifth inning for some reason,” McClendon said.
Hernandez sat in the dugout, staring blankly ahead with a look of utter dejection.
“My fastball was not there, my changeup was just OK and I made a couple of mistakes,” he said. “I didn’t make that play in that big inning. I should have made that play.”
And the like the past three games, the Mariners were done with still half the game left to play.
Toronto tacked on two more runs off Erasmo Ramirez and the Mariners’ offense went out with a whimper.
“It’s frustrating,” said center fielder Austin Jackson. “We know the situation we are in. This is a tough one. We just have to try and put it behind us and come out and win tomorrow.”