Well, the Seattle Mariners won’t be going undefeated this season. The dream of a 162-0 record was crushed on Wednesday night under an avalanche slippery pitches and doubles allowed by Mariners starting pitcher Joe Saunders in a 6-2 loss to the Oakland A’s at O.co Coliseum.
Sarcasm aside, Seattle got a less than stellar start from Saunders – four innings pitched, four runs on seven hits, including five doubles, with four walks and three strikeouts – and found itself playing catch up for most of the game, despite getting a pair of home runs in the first inning.
Franklin Gutierrez led off the game for Seattle with a solo home run to deep left-center off of A’s starter Tommy Milone.
Two batters later, Michael Morse continued his assault on the wall behind the center field fence. Morse crushed a 3-1 fastball from Milone off the back wall for the second time in as many at-bats and his third homer in two games.
But unlike yesterday, the Mariners could not add to the lead. And two runs weren’t going to be enough with the outing Seattle (2-1) got from Saunders.
The veteran left-hander – the most experienced starter in the rotation – simply couldn’t find his rhythm or the strike zone. The problems started with the most basic need when throwing a pitch – the grip. Saunders couldn’t get one. He spent much of the game asking for new baseballs from home plate umpire Doug Eddings. He searched and searched to find one that felt right. He never did.
“It was hard,” he said. “I felt like the balls had some funny stuff on them. Not to make excuses, but it felt like some of them were taking off on me. I still had to make some pitches.”
To his credit, Saunders tried to fight his way through the issue and keep the Mariners in it. He never worked a clean inning. The A’s scored runs in the second and third inning. But both could have been much worse.
In the second inning, Saunders got some help from Jason Bay and Brendan Ryan on Scott Sizemore’s double down the left field line. Bay was able to get the ball quickly, deliver a good throw to Ryan, who fired a laser of a relay throw to home to get Nate Freiman, who was trying to score from first to end the inning.
In the third inning, Saunders managed to load the bases with no outs bringing Yoenis Cespedes at the plate. In a bit of crisis management, Saunders got Cespedes to hit a sacrifice line out to score one run. He then got Josh Donaldson to line out and struck out Derek Norris to end the inning.
“He battled,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He controlled damage about as well as you can, considering everything. He kept working through it. He had to work hard though.”
The fourth inning ended his start. Saunders again found trouble letting the first two runners to reach base. He was able to get two outs without giving up a run. But any hopes of getting out of the inning unscathed were crushed by a fastball down the middle that Jed Lowrie deposited to the right-center gap scoring both runners.
“I made a big mistake to Lowrie,” Saunders said.
He struck out Chris Young to end the inning. But his day was done after 88 pitches.
“That was enough there,” Wedge said. “Ultimately in that situation you are going to try to give him every opportunity, especially in his first start, to try and work through it. We saw the bulldog in him.”
A 4-2 deficit after four innings didn’t seem impossible to overcome after what the Mariners did in the previous two games and what they did against Milone in the first inning. But the little left-hander found his command and grip on the baseball and shut Seattle down after the rough start. After giving up a lead-off single to Jesus Montero and a walk to Bay so start the second inning, Milone squashed the threat by getting Robert Andino to hit into a 5-4-3 double play and striking out Brendan Ryan.
After the Bay walk, Milone allowed just one more hit – another Montero single – while retiring 17 of the next 18 batters he faced.
“Everybody knows he doesn’t throw hard, but he can hit his spots,” Montero said. “Early on, after Guti and Morse hit homers, we were like ‘we got this guy.’” But he started to throw strikes and made a lot of good pitches. He got us.”
Montero’s fourth-inning single off of Milone and Brendan Ryan’s eighth inning single off of Sean Doolittle were the only hits the Mariners got after the second inning.
Making matters more difficult for the Mariners, the A’s continued to pad their lead. Wedge had to go to his bullpen early and got two good innings from right-hander Kameron Loe, who retired six of the first seven batters he faced. It was so good that Wedge sent Loe back out for a third inning of work in the seventh. Loe, who had only pitched more than two innings once in his last 142 relief appearances spanning the last two seasons, gave up back-to-back homers to start the seventh before settling down to get out of the inning.
“It’s something he needs to do,” Wedge said of pushing Loe to a third inning. “He left a couple of offspeed pitches up that they got to in that last inning, otherwise he threw the ball well. When you have a starter go four innings, you need someone down there that can go three innings, and he’s capable of doing that.”
The grip issues with the baseball came back in the eighth inning. Charlie Furbush lost control of a fastball that went under the extremely bearded chin of Josh Reddick. It drew boos from the sparse crowd in attendance. They really booed when Furbush’s next pitch – a curveball – slipped out of his fingers and hit Reddick in the back pocket.
Furbush’s wildness continued. He lost a fastball that hit off the backstop over the head of pinch hitter Brandon Moss. But Furbush was effectively wild, striking out Moss, getting a fielder’s choice from Sizemore and fly-out from Coco Crisp.
“He was having a hard time with the baseball and Joe was too,” Wedge said. “That was a big part of it.”