By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
OAKLAND – After playing well without much success against contending teams the past 10 days, the Seattle Mariners played a game that belonged in last place Friday.
They managed to continue their home-run hitting, homering for the 17th consecutive game, and they trailed Oakland only 4-2 until the bottom of the seventh.
A pair of fielding errors, the inability to hit with men in scoring position and an unusually ineffective bullpen handed the Athletics an 8-2 victory over the Mariners.
Seattle is limping toward the finish line of a season, losing seven of its last eight games and 10 of the last 14.
Until Friday, however, they had played well against good teams – the Orioles, Rangers and Angels – and lost close games. This one didn’t have that feel.
“All year, one of the keys for this team has been defense,” second baseman Dustin Ackley said. “You see what happens when you don’t play good defense – it can cost you the game.”
Starting pitcher Blake Beavan wasn’t particularly sharp and didn’t survive five innings, giving up a home run to the first man he faced, Coco Crisp, but allowed only four hits in 4 2/3 innings.
A two-run home run by Stephen Drew hurt Beavan, but so did shortstop Brendan Ryan’s two-out error in the fifth, which was followed by a John Jaso passed ball that allowed a run to score.
“The pitch to Drew, I just put that on a tee for him,” Beavan said.
“Blake was up a little too much tonight,” manager Eric Wedge said. “They hit a couple of home runs, hit a lot of hard outs. He was living on the edge.”
And then it got worse.
Charlie Furbush started the seventh inning, walked the No. 9 hitter and then a wild pitch sent him to second base. An infield single and another walk loaded the bases with Athletics, and Wedge brought in hard-throwing right-hander Stephen Pryor.
Pryor walked Yoenis Cespedes to force home a run.
With one out and the Seattle infield in, Josh Reddick grounded to second baseman Dustin Ackley. His throw to the plate was wide, and when Jaso had to dive to catch it, a runner scored on the throwing error.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson singled home two more and it was 8-2 and Oakland had maintained a two-game lead over Los Angeles in the wild card race despite an Angels’ win Friday.
And the Mariners had played like the fourth-place team in a four-team division – a spot they’ll occupy for the fourth time in five years.
“That’s a play I’ve had trouble with, throwing the ball down and to the left when I’ve thrown to the plate,” Ackley said. “I think I try to hurry it, I don’t set my feet right.
“That’s a play I haven’t worked on a lot and it shows with me. I’ve got to make that.”
“He’s got to throw a strike home,” Wedge said. “We get that out, the game is still close. We didn’t.”
Ackley shook his head.
“It seems every time I make an error, the next guy up gets a big hit,” he said. “It cost us.”
Home runs by Trayvon Robinson and Michael Saunders kept the Mariners close, but in the situations that defined the game, the offense couldn’t deliver.
When Ackley singled and Casper Wells walked to open the sixth inning, neither Kyle Seager or Jesus Montero could even advance them. When Jaso was hit with a two-out pitch that loaded the bases, Smoak flied out.
Even down six runs in the ninth, the Mariners got a Smoak single, a walk to Saunders and then went down 1-2-3 without moving Smoak off second base.
Seattle finished the night with six hits, and went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Over their last nine games, the Mariners have managed only seven hits in 71 at-bats with men in scoring position.
With only five games left in 2012, it’s likely too late to expect those numbers to make a complete turnaround. The Mariners can, however, play better defense and tighten up their pitching.
They may still add to their 73-win total.
It won’t get them out of fourth place, but it would make being there a bit more comfortable.