Saunders outdueled, Mariners fall 1-0

ANAHEIM — It was such a Mariners’ way to lose.

Over the better part of four seasons, the Seattle Mariners have struggled to score runs and searched endlessly for an offense that’s never materialized with any sort of consistency.

Even this season, with the big bats of Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, who were supposed to help the cause, the Mariners still can’t score runs. They rank dead last in the American League at 3.5 runs per game.

On Wednesday night at Angels Stadium, the Mariners got a brilliant outing from starter Joe Saunders, who pitched a complete game, scattering six hits and giving up just one run on a wild pitch — and yet, he still took the loss.

How?

Why?

It’s simple. The Mariners (32-41) mustered all of two hits against Los Angeles Angels’ starter C.J. Wilson and none against their bullpen, putting just one runner in scoring position in a 1-0 loss. It was the sixth time Seattle has been shut out this season.

And even when Seattle belted the ball, the Angels’ defense turned those hits into outs. It helps when you have two of the fastest outfielders in all of baseball in Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout to run down everything in sight.

Trout erased Seattle’s only real scoring opportunity in his typical, athletic, highlight-reel way.

With runners on first and second and two out in the seventh inning, Mike Zunino laced a liner into to left field off Wilson. It looked certain to go for extra bases when it left the bat, but Trout sprinted back and at full speed made a leaping grab while crashing into the wall to end the inning.

“I got it a little bit off the hands,” Zunino said. “I knew I hit it well. But the ball also doesn’t travel too well at night here.”

It robbed Zunino of extra bases and the Mariners only chance at scoring.

“Nobody else in the game catches that ball,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I thought it was going to be out of here. A ball that’s hit that hard and not real high, right over your head and to get back and catch it — nobody in the game does that.”

Zunino wasn’t surprised that Trout caught it. He’s been in the big leagues for all of about a week and it took him just a few days to see how special the Angels’ outfield can be defensively.

“Their whole outfield can really play,” Zunino said. “It’s a great weapon for them. He’s great defender and he’s done it so many times before.”

And that was the extent of the Mariners offensive night.

“We hit some balls hard tonight,” Wedge said. “But you have Trout and Bourjos running everything down out there. We hit some hard ground balls to infielders, kind of right at them balls. We put up better at-bats. But we didn’t have anything to show for it.”

And because of that, all Saunders (5-7) had to show for his effort was another loss. On most nights with most teams, his effort was good enough to win.

“He was good,” Wedge said. “He was really good against a real tough line-up that can score some runs. He did a great job with his fastball and change-up early on and then started mixing his breaking ball in.”

Saunders is far from dominant, even when he’s on. He gives up contact. But he didn’t give much in the way of hard contact. And when runners did get on, he left them on base.

He had runners on in all but two innings, but he’d get a strikeout here or a double play there to negate the threat.

“He was able to make some big pitches when he needed to,” Zunino said.

The one run Saunders allowed came in the sixth inning when Trout turned a hard liner to left into a double. Raul Ibanez cut off the ball down the line, but Trout with world-class speed never hesitated from the moment he left the batters box. He beat a decent throw from Ibanez easily into second with a head first slide.

“Not too many guys that get to second on that play,” Wedge said. “Ibanez did a nice job, he cut it off and made a nice throw. Trout was thinking double out of the box.”

Trout tagged up and easily advanced to third on Albert Pujols’ fly ball to right field.

With Trout on third, Saunders got a head of Mark Trumbo 1-2, and tried to throw a change-up low and away. The ball hit the dirt and bounced off the chest protector of Zunino and squirted behind him.

“It just sort of sped up on me,” Zunino said. “It took a funny bounce off my chest protector.”

If given 10 chances, Zunino probably finds a way to keep it in front of him nine times.

“Mike’s done a great job blocking the ball,” Wedge said. “That one got away from him. But who’s to say what would’ve happened if he blocked that one anyway.”

Trumbo did single moments later, so Trout likely scores on that play.

Saunders found himself in a minor jam in the eighth inning, having issued one-out walks to Trout and Pujols. But he got Trumbo to bounce into a double play to end the inning.

Over his past two starts — both on this road trip — Saunders has allowed just two earned runs in 15 innings pitched.

“It was tough a one,” he said. “But I’m more mad at myself for letting a run scoring on a wild pitch. Runs were tough to come by tonight. I wish we could have got a W.”

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