TORONTO – Even the mathematical possibilities are beginning to fade.
With the Oakland A’s losing earlier in the day and Kansas City losing later that night, the Mariners had a chance to whittle their deficit for a remaining playoff spot down to two games with a win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
And they got everything they needed to do it, well, except a run.
After four days of horrid outings from their starting pitchers, rookie Taijuan Walker reversed the trend in dominating fashion, pitching brilliantly in the biggest start of his young career.
Zero run support.
Walker pitched eight innings, giving up one run on four hits with a walk and six strikeouts. Yet it wasn’t good enough for him or the Mariners to get a victory.
Instead, his teammates failed to score a run and were shutout yet again in a 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays. It was their fifth straight loss and the 19th time they’ve has been shutout this season. It leaves the Mariners (84-74) three games back of Oakland and KC with four games left to play. It’s slightly better odds than a jackpot-winning lottery ticket, but not much.
Walker (2-3) did nearly everything needed for a win.
Though he took little solace in his success.
“We didn’t win,” he said. “It was a huge game that we needed to win. It’s kind of tough right now.”
Perhaps it was Walker’s true initiation as a Seattle starting pitcher – throwing a gem and still taking the loss because of lack of run support. It’s something he’s watched Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and even fellow rookie James Paxton suffer through on multiple occasions.
“In all of this, that’s certainly something I don’t want to get lost,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “That young man had a tremendous game. He really stepped up and did everything we asked him to do.”
The Mariners mustered little against veteran lefty Mark Buerhle, who was his typical fast-paced, strike-zone pounding self. He breezed through eight innings, allowing just two hits – a bloop double to Corey Hart in the third inning and an infield single to Dustin Ackley in the fourth inning.
Both hits led off innings and the Mariners did nothing with either opportunity. Mike Zunino even drew a rare walk to lead off the sixth inning. McClendon had Taylor bunt him into scoring position. But it mattered little. Buerhle struck out Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley to end the inning.
“He had it going,” McClendon said. “He’s veteran guy that knows what he’s doing. He’s got great touch and feel. He had the cutter going in, good changeup, breaking ball and mixed it all. That was vintage Buerhle.
Jackson has had to face vintage Buerhle on numerous occasions in his career and knows it isn’t fun.
“He was good,” Jackson said. “He was hitting his spots with all of his pitches, mixing his speeds up and we really couldn’t get too much going off him. We hit a few balls hard that were caught. But it’s unfortunate”
It was unfortunate for the Mariners, but also not surprising considering their offensive struggles for much of this season.
Walker’s lone blemish came in his last inning of work. Walker picked up the first out of the inning thanks to instant replay. Kendrys Morales made nice grab and diving tag attempt on Dalton Pompey’s bunt single down the first base line. Pompey was originally ruled safe. But replays showed that Morales had tagged him as he ran down the line and the call was reversed.
And while Walker got the out, he also got a little over excited and walked light-hitting Munenori Kawasaki on four pitches to put a runner on base. It was his first walk of the game.
“Probably a little amped up, probably a little too much,” Walker said. “I had a four-pitch walk to the next guy, a guy I have to go right after.”
Walker came back to strike out Anthony Gose for the second out of the inning.
But on a 3-2 changeup, No. 9 hitter Ryan Goins took a hard cut that produced a bloop single into shallow right-center field. In a 0-0 game, McClendon had the outfield playing deep not to allow a ball over their heads. So instead the soft flyball landed in between a charging Austin Jackson and Logan Morrison and a retreating Robinson Cano.
“It was just one of those things,” McClendon said. “Obviously we are playing no doubles. It’s a big swing where your first step is back and it landed in a spot where nobody could get it on turf where it bounced high. It’s just the way it goes.”
With Kawasaki running on the pitch, the ball bounced high off the turf, not allowing Jackson to field it quickly and fire home. Kawasaki scored and the one run would be enough.
“It fell right in between all of us,” Jackson said. “It was tough play for everybody. Playing no doubles right there to try to keep that runner on first from score, the guy hit it in the perfect spot.”
The Mariners had a chance to tie in the ninth. Chris Taylor led off with a single off Buerhle to put the tying run aboard. McClendon called on speedy James Jones to pinch run
The Blue Jays called on reliever Aaron Sanchez . The right-hander showed a good first pickoff move to first to keep Jones close. He only needed one more. Sanchez picked off Jones at first two pitches later. And the Mariners’ only threat was gone. Sanchez then struck out Jackson and got Ackley to ground out to end the game with his third save.