By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Maybe Hisashi Iwakuma, as he insists, isn’t affected by the lingering soreness in his neck. Perhaps it doesn’t affect him on the mound. It could be that he’s just had two bad starts in a row.
There’s no disputing that last part.
Iwakuma lasted just four-plus innings Wednesday night as the Mariners’ winning streak ended at five games in a 5-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field.
“I do feel it,” Iwakuma admitted, “but it’s not affecting my pitching at all. I’m able to go through my routines. I’m responsible for the last two starts, so I need to reflect on what I’ve done wrong as I prepare for my next start.”
The loss kept the Mariners from completing their first sweep of the Red Sox in seven years. The primary reason was that Iwakuma (5-4) yielded five runs and eight hits before exiting without retiring anyone in the fifth.
“I couldn’t get first-pitch strikes,” he said, “which kind of cost me. They took advantage of that. Not being able to throw strike one got to me.”
The Mariners’ attack pummeled veterans John Lackey and Jake Peavy in the two previous games and hit three homers against Clay Buchholz, who was activated prior to game after missing a month because of a knee injury.
Overall, though, opportunities were few. The Mariners had just four at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Buchholz (3-4) surrendered homers to Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino in a three-run second inning but nothing more before Brad Miller’s lead-off homer in the eighth.
“He’s been more compact over the rubber and in control of his body,” Boston manager John Farrell said. “He looked confident, and he looked relaxed. He was able to make pitches with four different types of pitches.”
Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara then protected the one-run lead over the final five outs. Uehara got his 16th save in 17 chances by pitching a scoreless ninth.
The Mariners made it interesting in the ninth.
Uehara started the inning by retiring Robinson Cano on a grounder to second, but Seager pulled a single through the right side. A walk to Logan Morrison put the winning run on base.
Uehara struck out Zunino and retired Dustin Ackley on a grounder to first. Brock Holt made a nice ranging pickup, and got the ball to Uehara, who just beat Ackley to the base.
“I didn’t hit it hard enough to get through there,” Ackley said. “We’ve done a good job of winning games late. This one, we just didn’t come through with it.”
David Ortiz led Boston’s 11-hit attack with a two-run homer in the first inning and a long RBI single in a two-run fourth. Daniel Nava had three hits, including an RBI single.
Iwakuma’s neck problems surfaced just prior to a June 15 start against Texas, but he shackled the Rangers for eight innings in a 5-1 victory. But last Friday in Kansas City, he surrendered a five-run lead in a no-decision.
“The problem is he’s just been so (darn) good that it hasn’t happened before,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It seems like it’s something weird. It happens to everybody. He’ll be ready for his next start.”
Boston jumped to a quick 2-0 lead on Ortiz’s two-out homer in the first. The Mariners answered with three runs in the second, but the Red Sox regained the lead in the third after Jackie Bradley Jr. led off with a double.
Bradley went to third on Holt’s single through the right side. Nava pulled the Red Sox even with a line single to center.
Iwakuma retired Dustin Pedroia on a fly to right, but Ortiz rocked a drive to deep right that got over Stefen Romero’s head. The runners held, anticipating a catch, and only one run scored — but the Red Sox led 4-3.
Boston knocked out Iwakuma in the fifth. Holt and Nava opened the inning with singles before a walk to Pedroia loaded the bases for Ortiz with no outs.
In came Tom Wilhelmsen, who limited the damage to one run.
Ortiz’s grounder turned into a run-scoring double play when Miller, overshifted to the right side from short, ran to second for the force before throwing to first. Wilhelmsen then struck out Jonny Gomes.
Wilhelmsen worked three scoreless innings. Then just-recalled Brandon Maurer, now a reliever, struck out four in two scoreless innings. That gave the Mariners a chance.
“It was absolutely tremendous,” McClendon said. (Wilhelmsen) saved our bullpen and gave us an opportunity to win a ballgame…As (did) Maurer. I don’t want those guys to get overshadowed tonight…
“We just couldn’t get that big hit. Their first baseman made a nice play on Ack’s ball. Night’s over.”