By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When the Seattle Mariners began their 10-game swing with a 4-0 record, a six-game losing streak was the last thing on their mind.
Flying home after losing to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, 4-3, that losing streak was part of the baggage they carried home.
The Mariners lost all four games of their series here, by a total of five runs. Little things beat them — mistakes, failures, blunders, missteps.
“You try to stay away from the big inning, and today they got us,” catcher John Jaso said. “Then some small ball problems at times got us, too.”
Defensively, the second inning might have represented the lapses of the last six games.
Starter Kevin Millwood had retired the first five batters he faced, including the first two in that second inning. Then infielder Will Rhymes nubbed a little ground ball to third base.
“He squibbed it, it had a lot of spin on it,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “I dove and caught it, but I rushed the throw a little bit up the line.
“It was the play that changed the outcome of the game. I’d really like to have made that play …”
With Rhymes at first base, Millwood gave up a game-tying two-run home run to infielder Jeff Keppinger, and later that inning, a two-run triple to Desmond Jennings.
“That inning was pretty much it,” said Millwood, who wound up pitching 61⁄3 innings. “After that I tried to keep the ball down and change speeds, and it worked.”
Millwood’s veteran thoughts on snapping the losing streak?
“Play better,” he said.
If the second inning turned the game around, the sixth inning illustrated the problems Seattle’s offense has had throughout it’s 27 games.
Jaso led off the inning with a double that outfielder Brandon Allen misplayed.
The Mariners had closed the gap to 4-3, so Jaso represented the tying run, and the all left-handed lineup had Mike Carp, Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders coming up.
“You get that runner over, then get him in,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We work on doing it every day.”
Carp struck out.
Smoak struck out.
Reliever Jake McGee wild pitched Jaso to third base.
Saunders struck out.
“I saw some tough pitches and I chased one,” Smoak said. “We wouldn’t be losing games if we’d done the little things right. We scored two runs in the second inning, and after that it was like we went through the motions.
“When you get the leadoff hitter to second base to start an inning, the percentages are you’ll get him in. We didn’t get it done.”
How frustrated is this team?
Put it this way. When Jaso was on second base with two outs and McGee threw the wild pitch to Saunders, he sprinted around third base and thought about trying to get to the plate.
“I thought about going home, yeah. I thought about doing something crazy,” Jaso said. “That would have been bad.”
Bad, as in 11-16? That’s the Mariners record now. In fairness, on Thursday every team Seattle had played in 2012 — Oakland, Texas, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Tampa Bay — all had records of .500 or better.
“We’re not getting the key hit,” Chone Figgins said.
This time the Mariners had seven hits, four of them doubles, but were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. And though Wedge cobbled together his 22nd lineup, he couldn’t hide all the problems.
No, Brendan Ryan (.130) did not play.
But Figgins (.189) did. Smoak (.189) did, and singled home one of the Mariners three runs. Munenori Kawasaki (.214), Carp (.100) and Saunders (.229) all played.
Before they boarded their flight home, the Mariners acted like a team expecting something to happen, and Wedge didn’t disagree that it might involve Figgins and the leadoff spot.
“If the top of the order doesn’t get on base, the middle of the lineup can’t produce,” Wedge said. “We’re 27 games into the season, and it’s a process. We’ve already made a couple of moves, and if we feel the need to, we’ll make a couple more.
“We will continue to make adjustments.”