By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The game doesn’t always come down to who wants it most – occasionally, talent has something to do with it.
When the Seattle Mariners tried to squeeze into the post-season race Tuesday, the Los Angeles Angels reminded them they’re outsiders, not just beating them, 5-4, but embarrassing them.
Zack Greinke and his bullpen combined to strike out 20 batters, the most in a big-league game this season. Whatever else happened Tuesday, when the Mariners kept coming on, that’s what will be remembered.
No team has ever struck out more often in a major league game, and it’s been done just four times.
The Mariners? They’ve been the victims twice.
Seattle allowed two unearned runs in the first inning, and rookie Erasmo Ramirez gave up home runs to Torii Hunter and Eric Aybar put this one out of reach.
Actually, it was the Angels pitching that did that.
Starter Zack Greinke struck out 13 batters through five innings, collecting all but two outs during that stretch on strikes. The Mariners made him work – putting together seven hits and two walks in those five innings – but time and again, he pitched out of trouble.
Once he departed, the Angels bullpen couldn’t quite silence Seattle but kept the strikeouts coming.
What damage the Mariners did was done chiefly with the bat of Justin Smoak, whose hot streak continued with a two home run game in which he went deep batting left-handed and then right-handed.
In 17 September games, Smoak is batting .361 with four home runs and eight RBI, and overall is 18 home runs matches Kyle Seager for the club lead this season.
Seattle was reminded again Tuesday that when it comes to playoff berth races, it’s a stranger in a strange land.
The Angels needed a win to move within a game of Baltimore for the second of two wild card spots, and while the Mariners whacked away at the plate, they were hapless when it mattered most.
The Mariners not only had runners on every inning against Greinke, they had runners in scoring position in four of his five innings. The only run he allowed, however, came on the first of Smoak’s two home runs.
Otherwise, he just missed Mariners bats.
Greinke struck out the side in the first inning, then got two more in both the second and third innings. In the fourth inning, Greinke struck out four Mariners – allowing Trayvon Robinson to reach first base when he threw a wild pitch, and Robinson swung at it and missed.
He struck out two more in the fifth inning and, after throwing 110 pitches, called it a night.
Going back to 1920, research indicated no other pitcher had struck out 13 batters while pitching only five innings.
For his part, Ramirez did no harm to his late season push to carve his name into the 2013 Seattle rotation.
Two first-inning runs came after third baseman Kyle Seager’s error, and into the fifth inning Ramirez held the Angels to just those two runs. In the fifth, after rookie Mike Trout’s single, Hunter hit his 16th home run and it was 4-1.
Ramirez lasted another inning, was touched for another home run, but through six allowed only three earned runs.
What failed miserably again in this game was the Mariners offense with runners in scoring position. Over the past week, the team had gone a woeful 1-for-40 in such at-bats.
Against the Angels?
The Mariners went 0-for-1 in the first inning, 0-for-2 in the second, fourth and fifth innings. For the math challenged, that left them 1-for-47 with runners in scoring position.
“That’s the biggest thing for us,” Wedge said. “We have to get better in that situation, and it’s usually the last thing to come for an offense.
“The worst, to me, is not making contact in that situation. At least force the other team to make a play.”
Franklin Gutierrez snapped the stretch by following a seventh-inning Dustin Ackley double with one of his own, making it 5-2 – and Smoak unloaded a two-out, two-run home run moments later.
That left Smoak one of four Mariners switch-hitters ever to home from both sides of the plate in one game – and the first since David Segui in April, 1998.
The other two: Larry Milbourne in 1978 and Donnie Scott in 1985.
Still, what will be remembered is the strikeouts. The Mariners struck out 18 times in the first eight innings, then faced Angels closer Ernesto Frieri in the ninth.
With one out, Frieri struck out Seager, then ended the game getting John Jaso.
It didn’t seem to matter how much the Mariners wanted it Tuesday. Twenty times, they couldn’t hit it.