By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners might be improved offensively in comparison to the last three seasons. Manager Eric Wedge believes it and has re-affirmed it on numerous occasions.
But the Mariners still have yet to consistently prove it 37 games into the 2013 season. Getting hits in late-game situations would certainly help.
The Mariners squandered scoring chances in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, failing to come up with the big hit needed to put them over the top.
Instead of celebrating late-inning heroics, the Mariners suffered a 4-3 loss to the Oakland A’s on a picturesque night at Safeco Field with a cheering crowd of 30,089 people waiting in anticipation.
“We had so many opportunities those last three innings,” Wedge said. “Everybody was working really hard to create opportunities and put us in position to at least tie the ballgame with one hit. A few guys stepped up and a few guys didn’t. But I loved the fight in them.”
He’d also like a few clutch hits to go with the fight. Seattle left runners on first and second in the seventh inning, the bases loaded in the eighth inning and runners on first and second in the ninth inning.
“It just comes down to not trying to do too much,” said Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak.
Wedge admitted before the game that some players have been guilty of that. The moment they come up with runners on base, they begin to press and get out of their approach.
“It’s for all of the right reasons,” he said. “Sometimes their heart gets in the way because they want it so much.”
The Mariners were playing from behind early. Rookie Brandon Maurer (17-20) gave up a solo homer to Josh Donaldson in the second inning and solo shot to Daric Barton in the fourth inning to put Seattle behind 2-0.
“It’s frustrating,” Maurer said. “They were two balls that were poorly thrown. At least there was nobody on.”
After a 10-day lay off, Maurer had good stuff, but not great command. But it stemmed more from working at accelerated tempo than rust.
“It took a while to settle in,” Maurer said. “I was rushing quite a bit there early. I was flying open and the ball was staying up.”
Maurer tried to slow the tempo down and stay within his delivery. But the early issues elevated his pitch count. Oakland pushed the lead to 3-0 in the fifth inning as Jed Lowrie got his third hit off of Maurer — an RBI single to center.
He got out of the fifth, but was at 95 pitches.
“He made it hard for himself,” Wedge said. “He did bend, but didn’t break and I think that’s something he should take from this. He fought through it. And in the end, he gave us a chance to win the ball game.”
The Mariners trimmed the lead down to one run in the fifth inning.
After going hitless against A’s starter Jarrod Parker for the first four innings, Kelly Shoppach got the Mariners first hit, lashing a fastball over the wall in right field for a two-run homer.
“He had pretty good stuff,” Shoppach said of Parker. “I hit four or five foul balls to the left of the third base coach and then I homer to right. You just never know.”
The Mariners bullpen couldn’t keep the deficit at one run.
Oakland answered immediately as Brandon Moss led off the sixth inning with a solo home run to right field off Charlie Furbush. Down 4-2, the Mariners gave themselves chances. It looked like they had run for sure in the sixth inning.
Kyle Seager launched a ball to center field that looked like it would get over the wall for a home run, but A’s center fielder Yoenis Cespedes made a leaping catch, crashing into the wall.
“Unbelievable,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I think he hit his face on the fence too.”
Seattle managed to scratch out a run in the seventh as Justin Smoak scored from second on Dustin Ackley’s single to right field. Smoak, who has been thrown out trying to score at home three times this season, ran through the stop sign of third base coach Daren Brown and made it standing up.
“I took off on contact,” Smoak said. “Before I hit third I saw him waving me in. When I hit third, I looked up and that’s when the stop sign was there. It’s hard to slow me down so I kept going.”
The Mariners still had runners on first and second with just one out. But Shoppach struck out and pinch hitter Jason Bay grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.
In the eighth, the Mariners had a chance to tie the score. They had runners on first and third with one out, thanks to singles by Michael Saunders and Kendrys Morales. But Michael Morse struck out against Ryan Cook. Smoak drew a walk to load the bases, but Cook struck out Endy Chavez to end the inning.
In the ninth, the Mariners had runners on first and second with two outs against closer Grant Balfour, but Seager grounded out to second to end the game.
“We’ve been getting guys on base,” Smoak said. “If we keep having good at-bats and keep getting guys on base, things can change with one swing of the bat. We all know that.”