By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ARLINGTON, Texas — As a team, they didn’t pitch or hit well enough to win, and for the fifth time in a row and the sixth time in the past seven games, the Seattle Mariners didn’t.
The difference this time?
Put it on veteran third-base coach Jeff Datz.
When the Mariners lost their fifth consecutive game, this one to the Texas Rangers, 4-2, one of the key plays was an eighth-inning triple that Datz tried to help Brendan Ryan turn into an inside-the-park home run.
“I turned third base and reached for another gear and there wasn’t one,” said Ryan, who lost speed and was thrown out on a bang-bang play at the plate.
“From the moment (center fielder) Craig Gentry dove and missed that ball, it was on.”
Michael Saunders, on base after an infield single, scored from first base. Ryan came around second base running all out and Datz watched the play develop.
“It was 4-1, then 4-2 and I thought he could make it,” Datz said. “They made a great throw, the relay was a seed and (Mike) Napoli put a great block on at the plate and they still barely got him.
“But you never want to make the first out of the inning at the plate.”
For his part, Ryan refused to blame his coach.
“I’ll never forget the play as long as I live,” he said. “I’ve never had the opportunity for an inside-the-park home run before, and I don’t know if I ever touched the plate.”
Gentry missed, Nelson Cruz tracked the ball down at the center field wall and threw to second baseman Ian Kinsler. Kinsler’s throw to the plate was spectacular.
“If the ball is a little left or right, I’m in,” Ryan said. “From Datzie’s view, he thought I could score. I thought I could score.
“It didn’t happen. I wish to God it had.”
It was one of the few opportunities Seattle had to score all night, as the Mariners were shut down for eight innings by lefty Matt Harrison, then in the ninth by Joe Nathan.
Kevin Millwood started and couldn’t find his command, pitching tough for five innings but needing 97 pitches to get 15 outs.
“I wasn’t locating and they weren’t swinging at bad pitches,” Millwood said. “Combined, that made me throw a lot of pitches.”
Still, after five innings the game was tied 1-1 and, yes, the Mariners had scored first on Jesus Montero’s first-inning RBI single.
The Rangers tied it in the second inning when Cruz hit his seventh home run.
When manager Eric Wedge went to his bullpen for the sixth, he called upon right-hander Steve Delabar. Delabar walked the first man he faced, gave up a single to the next.
“He had good stuff, but he can’t throw fastballs up and over the plate,” Wedge said. “The walk put him in the hole right way. That last pitch had to bounce, and it didn’t.”
Delabar fell behind Napoli, 2-0, then tried to throw a fastball in the dirt, away.
“It stayed over the plate, a little away,” Delabar said. “If it’s where it was supposed to be, he might roll over it and we get a double play.”
Instead, Napoli hit a three-run home run to put Texas up 4-1.
The way the Mariners offense has been: Game over.
The Mariners did manage seven hits, as many as the Rangers. But two of those Rangers hits left the building. The Mariners got a first inning Chone Figgins double and that outfield-assisted triple in the eighth.
Six outs from a 4-1 win, Gentry chose to dive for a line drive well in front of him, and with Saunders aboard, that let Ryan take off as the ball rolled and rolled.
“That’s on my baseball bucket-list, an inside-the-park home run,” Ryan said.
What Datz saw coming to third base wasn’t what anyone else saw once Ryan rounded the bag.
“About halfway between third and home plate, he ran out of gas,” Datz said. “I shouldn’t have sent him. It had nothing to do with how we’re scoring as a team — I thought he’d make it.”
Wedge was asked about the play and said only this: “If we send him, he’s got to be safe.”
Then he addressed an offense that is now batting .226.
“We’re fouling fastballs back, we’re taking fastballs for strikes and we’re not squaring them up,” Wedge said. “There’s too much of all three.
“Our players understand what we’re giving them, it’s just not translating into the games. You can’t have to play perfect baseball to win games, but that’s the position we’re putting ourselves in.”