By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was just the first game back from the All-Star break Friday, but the Mariners got a taste of what to expect over the next 10 weeks if they can stay in the postseason chase.
It ended as a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels in 16 innings and, ultimately, that’s all that matters.
But it was also a tight, tense pitchers’ duel that went to the end before Efren Navarro produced a walk-off victory with a pinch double on a seeing-eye grounder up the middle.
It was something more. It was the kind of it-matters game the Mariners seldom played in recent years — even at this point in the schedule.
It was filled with almosts and near-misses for both sides before the Mariners found disappointment after 5 hours and 14 minutes. It might be telling to see how they respond throughout the rest of the weekend.
“It’s a tough one, to battle 16 innings and come up just short,” said veteran Willie Bloomquist, who played the final six innings after entering the game as a pinch-runner.
“We had opportunities to win the game. That one stings a little bit.”
The Mariners finished with 15 hits and stranded 14 runners.
“We certainly had opportunities,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but so did they. It’s just the way it goes.”
Mike Trout started the winning rally with a one-out double against Dominic Leone, the eighth Mariners pitcher. The Mariners challenged that Trout missed first.
Replays showed clearly that he touched the base.
The Mariners opted to pitch to Albert Pujols with a base open, and Leone (2-2) snagged a sharp grounder and turned it into the second out.
“Pujols smoked my palm I made the play,” Leone said. “And I thought, `All right, the ball is going to be rolling our way.’ Next thing you know…”
First came an intentional walk to Josh Hamilton before the Angels sent up Navarro to bat for John McDonald. Navarro grounded a first-pitch fastball up the middle.
“Sinker down and away,” Leone said. “Nine out of 10 times, he rolls over that, and we get out of the inning. Tonight was one of those nights when it just found a hole.”
Trout scored easily, and Navarro got credit for a double because he reached second before the celebration reached him. The Angels used nine pitchers, and the ninth — Hector Santiago (2-7) — got the victory.
The Mariners had lots of chances. They put runners at first and third with two outs in the 13th inning against Cory Rasmus, but Brad Miller took a full-count curve over the heart of the plate for a strike.
The Mariners also saw a threat fizzle in the 11th inning when Angels reliever Fernando Salas snagged a Miller liner and it turned into a double play when Bloomquist broke from second.
That ball gets through, and the Mariners have the lead. But no.
Robinson Cano opened the Mariners’ 10th with an apparent double to center — his fourth hit of the game. The Angels challenged that Cano came off the base on his slide at second.
Replays overturned the call. Cano was out.
“It was a pop-up slide,” McClendon said. “He came off the bag…That’s something we’re going to have to continue to address (because of instant replay) — the pop-up slide, because you do come off the bag.
“Infielders are alert. They’ll keep the tag on you.”
The Angels could also point to loads of missed chances.
The Mariners got the game to the 11th when Danny Farquhar struck out Trout on a full-count fastball — and turned it into a double play when catcher Mike Zunino threw out Kole Calhoun on an attempted steal.
The Mariners also dodged a threat in the ninth.
Erick Aybar opened the inning with a line-drive single against Charlie Furbish, who had just bailed the Mariners out of a jam in the eighth inning.
McDonald replaced an injured Aybar as a pinch-runner, while the Mariners summoned Farquhar to replace Furbush. Aybar suffered an injured right groin in running to first.
Howie Kendrick moved McDonald to second with a sacrifice bunt, which nearly turned into a single when Farquhar failed to make a clear pick-up. Only an alert play by first baseman Justin Smoak secured an out.
Farquhar struck out the next two hitters.
Despite the loss, the Mariners, at 51-45, maintained a 2 1/2-game lead in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card spot. All they have to do now is hold onto through 66 more games.
The Angels opened the scoring by getting two runs in the fifth inning against Hisashi Iwakuma before the Mariners answered with two in the seventh against Jered Weaver.
Then it turned in a bullpen battle and a race to the next run. The Angels got the first, finally, in the 16th inning. The game ended at 12:22 a.m.
“I’m ready to get back out there,” Leone said. “I don’t like dwelling on the loss, and I don’t like seeing all the faces of defeat after we battled for 16 innings. That’s tough.”
One thing in the Mariners’ favor: On Saturday, they hand the ball to Felix Hernandez. And good thing; the Angels are countering with Garrett Richards.
“We’ve got to rebound and get back after it,” Bloomquist said. “Hopefully, Felix does what Felix does, and we’re right back where we need to be. His work speaks for itself. Hopefully, it speaks again.”