On Thursday, the Seattle Mariners dropped their third in a four-game series at Comerica Park in Detroit, losing 5-4 loss to the American League Central-leading Tigers, thanks once again to another failed outing from an overworked and ineffective bullpen.
"I'm proud of our guys," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "We gave them everything they could handle these past four days. We aren't looking for moral victories, but I am very appreciative to the way these guys are fighting and stepping up to these teams at the end of the year."
Moral victories might be easier to find than regular victories. The Mariners fell to 67-86 on the season, and with another loss, they will equal the number of losses from last season. With nine games remaining against the Angels, Royals and A's, it's almost a certainty that they will finish with a worse record than in 2012. That's not exactly what was expected when the season began.
The Mariners had their chances in this game against old friend and teammate Doug Fister.
Seattle grabbed a quick 1-0 lead off of Fister in the top of the first with three consecutive hits, topped off by Raul Ibanez's RBI single.
But rookie James Paxton, who came into the game with a 2-0 record and a 0.75 ERA, didn't quite have his best stuff against a line-up significantly better than Tampa Bay and St. Louis -- his only other big league starts.
"They have a great lineup," Paxton said. "You don't get any hitters off, you have to grind it out. Those middle-of-the-lineup guys are really talented and you have to make good pitches to those guys. It was definitely a battle."
The Tigers erased Seattle's 1-0 lead immediately in the bottom of the first. Torii Hunter crushed a fastball over the left field wall for a solo homer and Prince Fielder later scored from first on Victor Martinez's double to left-center.
The Tigers pushed the lead to 3-1 in third inning when Paxton issued a bases-loaded walk to Omar Infante on four pitches.
"They really made him work early on," Wedge said. "He didn't quite have the same command that we've seen out of him. But he responded to the work, and he didn't give into them.
Paxton didn't allow a run in the fourth or the fifth inning to end his day.
"It was definitely a battle," Paxton said. "I didn't have my best stuff today. You aren't going to have your best stuff a lot of the times you go out there. You have to be able to battle and get through it. And give your team a chance to win."
That's all Wedge asks of his starters.
"In some ways this start was more impressive than the first two because he didn't have his best stuff," Wedge said. "And I thought he was better in the end. I was still very impressed with his performance."
Paxton's teammates helped him out with some run support.
Dustin Ackley, who now resides just outside of Detroit, smacked a three-run homer to right field off Fister in the fifth inning to give the Mariners a 4-3 lead. It was just his fourth homer of the season.
"He kind of left a change-up middle, middle away and I was able to make a good swing on it," Ackley said. "I know that it feels right when I'm up at the plate."
With Paxton at 95 pitches after five innings and the Mariners wanting to be careful with his workload this late in the season, Wedge had to go to his bullpen.
Tom Wilhelmsen got out of a self-made jam unscathed in the sixth, but in the seventh, he gave up a lead-off double to Hunter. A deep fly ball to right from Miguel Cabrera allowed Hunter to advance to third.
Wedge called on lefty Charlie Furbush to face the lefty-swinging Fielder with the runner on third. Fielder, who has feasted on Mariners pitching this series, singled into left to score Hunter to tie the score at 4-4.
Martinez then followed with a double down the left-field line. Fielder again tried to score from first on the play. Raul Ibanez chased down the ball, made a decent throw to shortstop Carlos Triunfel, who wheeled and made a solid relay throw to catcher Mike Zunino at home.
Zunino sidestepped the sliding Fielder and tagged him on the upper shoulder and face. However, home plate umpire Ron Kulpa called Fielder safe on the play.
"I know I got him that's without a question," Zunino said. "I know I tagged him. But he said he saw his foot get in there. He gets the final say, so that's all you can do."
Down 5-4, the Mariners couldn't mount a rally. Nick Franklin ended the eighth inning with a double play and Seattle went down in order in the ninth against closer Joaquin Benoit.
After the early trouble, Fister lasted 72/3 innings, giving up the four runs on nine hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts. He became fifth Tigers starting pitcher to strike out 10 or more batters against the Mariners in seven games this season.
"I thought we did a good job of making him work," Wedge said. "Fister is so efficient. He trusts his stuff and pounds the zone. He can throw anything, any time. I tip my cap to him. He went a lot deeper in the game than I thought he was going to."
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