By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — If some of those minor league players brought to the majors by the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday were there to quietly watch and appreciate big-league baseball, it wasn’t educational.
Against a Boston team filled with Class AAA talent, the Mariners squandered opportunities, lost a three-run lead and then failed twice in key bunt attempts — all leading to a 4-3 Seattle loss.
It wasn’t pretty and, aside from the expanded roster of both teams, few were there to see it.
The game produced one of the smallest crowds ever to watch a Red Sox — Mariners game in Seattle, 12,754.
“The story of the game tonight was we had so many missed opportunties,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We could have put them away or come back on them, but no one came through for us.
“We hit the ball hard, but not with men in scoring position.”
How thorough a loss was it?
The Mariners got back-to-back home runs in the third inning from Franklin Gutierrez and Kyle Seager to seize a 3-0 lead, after which center fielder Gutierrez had to leave the game.
Why? Tightness in his groin.
Already this season, Gutierrez has missed huge chunks of time with injuries to his chest, foot and head. Now, apparently, he’s day-to-day with a groin issue.
There other center fielder, Michael Saunders, has missed much of the last two weeks with a groin strain, so Tuesday the position was played by Casper Wells and then, in the eighth and ninth innings, by Trayvon Robinson.
“He hurt it in the outfield, and we pulled him as a precaution,” Wedge said.
Blake Beavan, the 23-year-old No. 5 starter, was trying to win his 10th game Tuesday — which would have doubled his 2011 total.
A contact pitcher without the ability to make good hitters swing and miss, he worked his way through the Boston lineup for five innings and had a 3-0 lead.
Then, in the span of six pitches, the game got away from him.
Dustin Pedroia singled. Jacoby Ellsbury singled. Cody Ross hit one into the Red Sox bullpen, and the game was tied.
“He was just missing in the middle of the plate, he just wasn’t the same guy,” Wedge said of his starter. “I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t fatigue, and it happened fast.”
Beavan got two outs, then allowed the go-ahead run on a home run by Ryan Lavarnway on his 85th pitch of the night.
He didn’t throw an 86th.
Against lefty Jon Lester, having a disappointing season on an underachieving team, the Mariners pestered in each of his six innings on the mound but never could put him away.
In those six innings, the Mariners had nine hits against the Puyallap product — two of those home runs — drew two walks and stole three bases.
It got them all of three runs.
That wasn’t enough. Once Beavan fell behind, it didn’t matter that his bullpen shut out the Red Sox. Fine efforts from Carter Capps, Lucas Luetge, Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez held Boston to those four runs.
The Mariners were held to three.
Now 137 games into their seasons, the Mariners are still fighting to execute the fundamentals for a team that needs to do precisely that to win.
Late in the game, Seattle twice had leadoff base runners, and each time Wedge asked the next batter to bunt the runner into scoring position.
In the seventh, after Dustin Ackley’s single, Eric Thames tried to bunt twice, missed both times and struck out. The next hitter, Kyle Seager, then singled but the Mariners didn’t score.
Again in the eighth, opportunity presented itself after pinch hitter John Jaso walked. Trayvon Robinson popped a bunt up to first baseman James Loney.
“There’s never an excuse for that,” Wedge said.
Two simple plays, the kind hitters practice from Little League days, both flubbed in a big league game. And a game decided by one run got away — for the 24th time in 2012.
Two outs into the ninth inning, against Boston closer Andrew Bailey, the Mariners gave themselves one last chance when Thames tripled to right center field.
That got the game to Seager, who leads the majors this season with 43 two-out RBI.
Seager flied out to right field to end it.
The loss was the Mariners 71st of the season and with 25 games left, they fell to five games under .500. The last time they were at .500?
April 28, at 11-11.