The thinking behind the decision was right. The execution was fine. And the result?
Well, that pretty much cemented a loss for the Seattle Mariners on Monday night at Safeco Field.
With the Mariners trailing 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning, manager Eric Wedge had pitcher Joe Saunders intentionally walk the white hot-hitting Adrian Beltre with two outs and a runner on second and first base open.
“It’s the right thing to do there,” Wedge said. “If you have a chance to pitch around Beltre you are going to do it, if he’s not the hottest hitter in baseball, then he’s one of the hottest hitters, especially over the last couple months.”
Indeed, Beltre came into the game hitting .327 with 27 homers and 79 RBI and 165 hits (second most in the American League. And in his last 10 games against Seattle, he was hitting .425 (10-for-17) with three doubles and three homers.
The Mariners intentionally walked Beltre in the first inning with runners on second and third and one out. It worked marginally as A.J. Pierzynski, who was hitting behind Beltre, hit into a fielder’s choice.
But Pierzynski made the Mariners pay for the decision in the seventh.
The veteran catcher yanked a first-pitch slider over the wall in right field for a three-run homer and turning the one-run lead into an eventual 8-3 win. It was the fourth straight loss for Seattle, which fell to 59-71 on the season.
“It was a good pitch to A.J.,” Saunders said. “He’s kind of a guess hitter and he guessed right and put a good swing on a good pitch.”
Saunders stood there on the mound in disbelief at what just transpired. Pierzynski came into the game hitting .227 (5-for-22) with five strikeouts against Saunders. And he was 0-for-3 going into that at-bat.
“Joe had done a good job of handling A.J in the times they faced each other,” Wedge said. “He’d handled him fine tonight in the times leading up to that point.”
Down 7-3, the Mariners were done.
“That was a big blow right there,” Wedge said.
Right now Seattle isn’t hitting well enough to come back from a four-run deficit in three innings. The memories of July’s offensive juggernaut have vanished into the ether of swing and misses and weak pop outs.
The three runs they scored are a high for the home stand and more than they scored in three straight losses to the Angels.
“We just have to collectively get it together,” Wedge said. “In the short period of time I’ve been back here, we just haven’t competed at the plate like I’d like us too.”
Saunders gave up two quick runs in the first inning on an Alex Rios single to center. The Mariners tied the game at two in the third inning. Brad Miller dumped a single into left field off of Rangers starter and former Mariners prospect Travis Blackley to score Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley.
Texas answered immediately in the fourth inning. Rios doubled to right off the glove of a diving Franklin Gutierrez. Jeff Baker was awarded a single after his hard ground ball struck second base umpire Dale Scott. After getting an out, Saunders appeared to get out of the inning. But Nick Franklin bobbled a routine double play ball, getting just one out and allowing Rios to score from third. Elvis Andrus punched a single to right to make it 4-2.
“Debacle” was how Saunders summed up the inning.
The Mariners cut the lead to 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth when Kyle Seager blasted a solo homer to right off of Blackley. It was his 20th homer of the season and he became the first player since Beltre to hit at least 20 homers in back-to- back seasons.
“We were battling,” Seager said.
But the battle became much more difficult after Pierzynski’s home run. Mitch Moreland made it impossible by blasting a solo homer off of reliever Yoervis Medina in the eighth inning to make it 8-3.
Saunders worked seven innings, giving up seven runs on nine hits with three walks (two intentional) and four strikeouts.
“I thought I pitched better than the results,” he said. “I’ve just had some bad luck. You just have to keep your head, keep pushing forward, keep working hard and trust that things are going to turn around.”
Saunders is happy he won’t see the Rangers again this season. In 16 career starts against Texas, he’s 4-10 with a 6.40 ERA.
Blackley, who was claimed recently off of waivers form the Astros by the Rangers, worked six innings, giving up three runs on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Not bad for a guy, who was pitching as a reliever most of the year.
“I’ve seen him do it against us when pitched with Oakland,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “He has an idea of what he’s going out there.”