By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez has owned up to some bad pitches, some dismal outcomes over the years, but the grand slam home run he allowed Saturday that beat him?
Not so much.
“It was a good pitch, inside fastball, and Alberto (Callaspo) just got his bat on it,” Hernandez said. “He talked to Miguel Olivo later and said ‘I don’t know how I hit that ball.’
“I don’t either.”
For the Mariners, Callaspo’s pinch-hit grand slam in the fifth inning was the game changer, turning a 2-1 Seattle lead into a 5-2 deficit from which they never recovered, losing 5-3 to the Los Angeles Angels.
“The last couple of years, they’ve beaten us pretty regularly,” second baseman Dustin Ackley said. “We think we’re good enough to play with them, to beat them this year.
“That’s what’s been tough about this series. We took two of three from Texas, we were playing well.”
The Angels’ third consecutive win in Safeco Field had one common denominator — an Albert Pujols home run. After struggling nearly two months in the American League, he came to Seattle and found his stroke.
On Saturday, Pujols hit a Hernandez slider that was away, knocking it over the wall in left center field.
“I wouldn’t take that pitch back, either,” Hernandez insisted. “It was a good pitch. Pujols is a good hitter.”
After scratching out a 2-1 lead, the Mariners offense did what it has done too often in a 10-15 month of May — nothing.
From the sixth inning on, Seattle got one run, that coming on a solo home run from Justin Smoak. Smoak credited Angels pitcher Jerome Williams.
“He’s not overpowering, but he knows how to pitch,” Smoak said. “That’s what he did today, he pitched. He threw me a bunch of changeups early on and I fouled them back. In the sixth inning, I finally squared one up.”
There were other opportunities, all wasted.
Ichiro Suzuki came to bat in the seventh inning with two outs after Mike Carp and Michael Saunders had walked, but rolled out weakly to the pitcher.
Kyle Seager led off the eighth inning with a single, got to second base but was left there as Smoak, John Jaso and Olivo each struck out.
Hernandez, however, took responsibility for the loss.
“I gave up a lead, and that’s tough. That’s disappointing to me,” he said.
Someone mentioned the month of May, and the pitcher rolled his eyes.
“I’m always terrible in May,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know why. I really have no idea, but it’s true.”
Yes, it is.
Hernandez is 10-20 in May throughout his career and has a 4.68 earned run average. This May, he’s 2-3 with a 4.55 ERA. When you determine the reason, call the Seattle Mariners.
Meanwhile, all they can do is try to capture the series finale today and lick their wounds.
“You try to win every game, you hate losing any time, but playing a team in your own division — those are games that are really hard to lose,” Seager said.
The Mariners have held their own in the American League West, going 8-9 despite sitting in fourth place. They’re 5-2 against Oakland, just 3-6 against Los Angeles and Texas.
Protecting a 2-1 lead into the sixth, Hernandez endured one of those fist-biting innings where everything seemed to turn against him.
Mark Trumbo led off with a hard ground ball to the hole at shortstop, where Brendan Ryan gloved it, bobbled and dropped it. It was ruled an infield single.
Howie Kendrick singled and even with the infield in at the corners, Erick Aybar dropped a bunt so good he beat it out to load the bases.
“That was a perfect bunt,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said.
Hernandez struck out Kole Calhoun for the first out, but the Angels sent left-handed hitter Callaspo up for catcher Bobby Wilson. On an 0-1 pitch, Hernandez threw him a fastball in.
Callaspo hit it out down the right field line.
Hernandez stared toward center field for nearly a minute after the swing.
From there, the Mariners bullpen — Steve Delabar and Shawn Kelley — shut the Angels down and waited for the Mariners offense to come back.
“I’m disappointed with our overall approach at the plate,” Wedge said. “We’re taking too many strikes. We’re fouling off pitches we should be squaring up. We’re getting a little too picky with two strikes.”
And they’re losing. Even with their ace on the mound.