By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
BOSTON — The young Seattle Mariners played another patience-bending game Monday, the kind where hitters didn’t hit and the team didn’t score enough runs to win.
Jason Vargas couldn’t keep the Red Sox off that famed Green Monster in left field and Northwest product Jon Lester pitched a complete game in Boston’s 6-1 victory.
“You come to the plate, you can’t help seeing that left field wall, it looks right there,” Dustin Ackley said. “I think their players adapt to it. Right-handers pull the ball, lefties stay on it and go the other way.
“You can’t do that as a visiting player, you can’t change your swing for two games. I’ve only played here maybe six games, but that team has never failed to hit that wall in those games.”
In the end, Boston had nine hits Monday, the Mariners eight.
“Vargas wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been, he left a couple of pitches up,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “We had hits, we hit some balls hard, had some great at-bats — we just didn’t do any damage.
“Their offense was just the opposite.”
One out into the first inning, Dustin Pedria walked and David Ortiz popped a fly ball off the Green Monster for an RBI double. In Safeco Field, it wouldn’t have reached the warning track.
Adrian Gonzalez hit an opposite-field ground ball double and it was 2-0.
“The doubles were what they were,” Vargas said. “You’ve got to play the dimensions of the park you’re in.”
Boston used the fence again in the fourth inning, with home runs by Daniel Nava and Kelly Shoppach that put Boston ahead, 5-0.
Green Monster specials?
“The home runs were not cheap,” Vargas said. “I should have done a better job of keeping us in the game. I didn’t.”
Against Lester, a lefty whose earned run average coming in was 4.29, the Seattle offense had trouble getting started. Lester retired the side in order the first three innings, then gave up a two-out infield single in the fourth to Ichiro Suzuki.
That was the Mariners first base runner.
“The first two or three innings he got into a zone and I think it carried over for him all night,” said Ackley, whose sixth-inning single extended his hitting streak to 10 consecutive games. “He had a great cutter, a great curveball.
“The only time he got in trouble was when he fell behind in the count and had to throw a fastball. He didn’t pitch to that ERA.”
No, and by night’s end, Lester was 2-3 with a 3.71 ERA.
He missed a shutout by about … this much.
Seattle banged out three hits in the seventh inning and not only didn’t score, they couldn’t keep all those men on base.
Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak singled to open the inning, but Kyle Seager lined out to second base, and Montero was caught way off the bag for a double play.
Alex Liddi singled, but Michael Saunders popped out.
After Lester got the Mariners in order in the eighth inning, it looked like he’d become the fifth pitcher this season to shut Seattle out.
Ichiro singled and took third base on Smoak’s one-out double. Seager, the team RBI leader, drove home his 21st run with a ground ball to second base.
And that was the Mariners scoring for the evening.
“He had great stuff and pitched his best when he was in trouble,” Ackley said.
Wedge tried to explain his team. Again.
“To a man, everyone in our lineup is working on something at the plate,” Wedge said. “You watch Smoak, Saunders, Seager, they all had better at-bats tonight.
“The fundamentals are mostly there. It’s the mindset that a hitter has to have up there — that’s got a ways to go.”
Smoak had two hits and inched his average to .214. Saunders had one and is at .223.
That’s better but not nearly enough, and couple those averages with those of Casper Wells (.216) and Brendan Ryan (.140) and the Mariners have holes in their lineup they can’t hide.
Ackley’s 10-game hitting streak has pushed his season average to .248.
Put another way, Seager is the only Mariner with as many as 20 RBI. The Red Sox had four in their lineup — including leadoff hitter Mike Aviles (25).
The Mariners team average is .235, so it’s small wonder that in the 19 games Seattle has now scored three runs or less this season, their record is 3-16.
Wedge and his front office is holding firm to the patience-is-a-virtue philosophy, but waiting on a lineup of pups is more difficult without a few productive veterans.
Ichiro, who had his worst season in 2011, is batting .291 this season but batting third has only 13 RBI.
Patience goes only so far. Shortstop Ryan’s job dangles by a tenuous thread and the daily lineup remains in flux. And, perhaps more important to the franchise and its fans, the Mariners are 16-21.
That’s exactly their record after 37 games in 2011