By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The battle between two of baseball’s worst offenses led to dominant pitching at Safeco Field Monday night, where the first team to score won.
Given the Seattle Mariners haven’t put up a run in 23 innings, the Oakland Athletics needed only one swing — a Seth Smith second-inning home run — to lay a 1-0 loss on rookie Erasmo Ramirez.
You’ve heard pitchers say they made only one mistake in a game where the opposition scores three, four runs?
Ramirez allowed four Oakland batters to reach base, erased two with double plays, struck out 10 men in eight innings and yes, was beaten by one mistake.
“I was trying to be aggressive, get ahead in the count and it was a fastball down the middle,” the 22-year-old right-hander said. “Some nights, that’s a ground ball. Tonight, it was a home run.
“After that, I just tried to keep it there, give us the chance to come back.”
Ramirez gave them the opportunity to do so, but Oakland rookie lefty Tommy Milone took it away, helped the final two innings by relievers Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook.
“Milone hit corners all night, inside and outside,” Jesus Montero said. “I tried to stay up the middle against him, but he was tough. Then their closer came in throwing 97-98 mph. We fought all night. We fought to the end.”
And, in the end, the Mariners out-hit Oakland, 7-3. The difference? All seven Seattle hits were singles.
“We never put an inning together,” manager Eric Wedge said. “In a 1-0 game, that’s all you need to do, put one inning together.”
The closest the Mariners came may have been their fourth inning, when Montero singled and, with one out, Michael Saunders singled to put runners on first and third base.
Catcher Miguel Olivo grounded sharply into a double play — and Seattle had only one hit the rest of the night.
“Every night I come here feeling like we’re going to break loose at home,” Wedge said. “At one point or another, every part of our game has been good. We just haven’t yet put them all together.
“I feel like we’re closer. Our starting pitching is more consistent, our defense has been good the past two games …”
But oh, that offense.
At .238, the Mariners team average coming in was 11 points higher than the Athletics, but hits don’t always mean runs. Seattle has now been shut out in back-to-back games — losing 2-0 and 1-0 — and been shut out nine times in 75 games.
Ramirez deserved better.
Making his third major league start, Ramirez opened the night by striking three Oakland batters out in order in the first inning, topping out at 95 mph and showing a what-was-that changeup.
“He was tremendous, there was more life to his fastball and everything was down,” Wedge said. “His changeup played well off the fastball, and he had good breaking stuff all night.
“Erasmo was able to speed them up and slow them down.”
Asked the difference between this start and his previous two, Ramirez grinned.
“I didn’t try to be perfect,” he said. “Before, I’d try to hit a corner. Tonight, I just pitched. I was more comfortable, I had better command of all my pitches. I was just trying to be aggressive with strikes all night.
“My changeup did most of the damage. Some nights it’s the slider, some nights the curve. You have to find which pitch is working best on that night and use it.”
Ramirez became just the eighth rookie in franchise history to notch a 10-strikeout game — and no rookie has had more than 12 in a game for Seattle.
The others on that list: Freddy Garcia, Randy Johnson, Mark Langston, Felix Hernandez, Erik Hanson, Bryon McLoughlin and Michael Pineda.
Not that it did him or his team much good.
The Mariners have already lost 1-0 games three times in 2012, and the American League West is receding into the distance. With this loss, Seattle trails third-place Oakland by 5 1/2 games.
As painful, the Mariners record at home is now 12-20, and a crowd of 17,101 didn’t have much more than Ramirez to cheer about in this one.
Oakland scored once, and anyone who missed Smith’s home run didn’t see a run cross the plate the rest of the night.