By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — When two outfielders run together on the first play of game and combine for a two-base error … yep, it was that kind of Saturday night for the Mariners.
When that error is soon followed by a two-run homer; when your best chance to counter fizzles when your franchise player takes a third strike with two runners in scoring position …
The result, in this case, was a 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Safeco Field.
And with that, the Mariners — who had not lost back-to-back games in more than month prior to Friday’s loss to the Nats in the series opener — have lost three in a row.
“Sometimes, games like these are hard to flush,” left fielder Dustin Ackley said, “because they’re so late in the season, and every game means so much. But we play this game every day.
“We’ve got to learn to flush the bad ones.”
While the Mariners (72-62) are still 10 games over .500 as they head into the last day of August, they now are now 1 1/2 games behind Detroit or Kansas City in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. The Tigers and Royals are tied atop the AL Central.
“We kind of know what’s going on,” M’s third baseman Kyle Seager said. “We hear about all of that stuff. If we take care of our end, everything else will work out.”
Not much worked out Saturday.
Jayson Werth’s two-run homer in the first inning against Mariners starter Roenis Elias (9-12) was all Washington right-hander Stephen Strasburg required.
Strasburg (11-10) overmatched the Mariners in limiting them to five hits, all singles, until Ackley’s two-out homer in the eighth inning. That brought the Nationals’ bullpen into the game.
“I think this is the best we’ve seen him all year,” Washington manager Matt Williams said of Strasburg, “and it’s been the most important. Fastballs at 96 or 97 miles an hour and using the change-up off of it.
“It was really effective.”
No argument from the Mariners.
“The change-up he’s got is pretty devastating,” Ackley said. “He throws really hard. He sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. Any time you’ve got that kind of velocity and stuff, and you’re able to locate, you’re going to have success.”
Lefty Matt Thornton got the final out in the eighth before one-time Mariner Rafael Soriano (2002-06) worked around two singles in the ninth for his 30th save.
It marked the Nationals’ 11th straight victory over the Mariners, which matches a major-league record for interleague opponents. Oakland had an 11-game run against Pittsburgh that ended in 2013.
The Nationals have never lost to the Mariners since the franchise relocated from Montreal to Washington after the 2004 season. The Nats can gain sole possession of the record Sunday by completing a three-game sweep.
As for Saturday, it didn’t start well.
Denard Span lofted the third pitch of the game into left-center field. Ackley and Austin Jackson converged from left and center. Either one could have caught the ball. Both tried.
It fell to the ground for a two-base error charged to Jackson.
“I think we both started calling it at the same time,” Ackley said, “so we didn’t really hear each other. At the last second, I finally heard him, and I should have got out of the way at that point no matter how close I was.”
Thereafter, the Mariners turned in a series of sparkling defensive plays. Seager deftly handled several short hops. Second baseman Robinson Cano and catcher Jesus Sucre also had web-gem efforts.
“It was a real good defensive game shortly after the anthem,” said bench coach Trent Jewett, who again ran the club while manager Lloyd McClendon attended his daughter’s wedding in Indiana.
But the Ackley/Jackson miscue hurt when, after Anthony Rendon grounded to third, Werth crushed a 2-2 fastball for a two-run homer into the upper deck beyond the left-field wall.
“It was a pitch that stayed a little bit high,” Elias said. “He’s a good player, and he god a good piece of wood on the bat.”
The Mariners’ best chance came in the third inning after singles by Sucre and Jackson, and a Jackson steal, put runners at second and third with two outs.
Strasburg escaped by getting a borderline third-strike call on Cano.
That kind of night. The Mariners are 1-4 on a six-game homestand that ends Sunday after winning 13 of their previous 17.
“We know we’re better than what we’ve been doing,” Ackley said. “We’ve shown what we can do in the past, and we know we’re going to have to start doing that (again).”