By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — After winning each of their first four games against Detroit, the Mariners lost to the Tigers in the fifth meeting, which also happened to be the first featuring reigning American League MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander.
But saying the Tigers, who beat Seattle 6-4 in front of 13,455 at Safeco Field, finally got the better of the Mariners simply because they had their ace on the mound wouldn’t really be an accurate depiction of what happened Tuesday.
Yes, Verlander pitched well enough over six innings to improve to 3-1, but the bigger determining factor in this game was the rocky performance of Seattle starter Kevin Millwood, who gave up five runs in the first two innings, a deficit that proved too large for the Mariners to overcome despite their flirtation with another dramatic ninth-inning comeback.
“I just wasn’t making the pitches,” said Millwood, who fell to 0-4 with the loss. “I left a few balls up. I made a couple pitches that were pretty good pitches that they hit — nothing you can do about that — but it all comes down to that one inning. I was able to battle and get out of the first, then the second seemed to be that inning again.”
To his credit, Millwood settled down after a rough start and shut Detroit out for the next three innings. And he was actually pretty fortunate to get out of the first two innings allowing only four runs. Millwood faced seven batters in the first, allowing three hits — all of which were hit hard — and walking two more, but he also got a double play and left the bases loaded to minimize the damage.
The end result notwithstanding, Millwood lasting five innings was important for the Mariners after they had to go to the bullpen early Monday because of an injury to starter Blake Bevan.
“That was big,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. “We weren’t going to be able to go to the bullpen early after (Monday). We just didn’t have enough arms down there to get us through the ballgame, so we really needed Kevin to step up right there and stay in there, and not only did he stay in there, he was able to shut them down for those final three innings.”
The Mariners were also able to turn what early on looked like a rout into a competitive contest in part because of one of those strange, sometimes-baseball-just-doesn’t-make-sense things: Verlander, as good as he has been in recent years, is mortal against the Mariners of all teams.
Coming into Tuesday’s game, Verlander was 8-6 with a 3.34 ERA over his career against Seattle, which has had some historically bad offenses in recent years. At Safeco Field, he had a 3-4 record with a 4.44 ERA. Those are hardly terrible numbers, just not the dominance you might expect out of a pitcher like Verlander against, well, the offenses the Mariners have put on the field over the past few years.
And while Verlander was able to last six innings — making it 49 straight starts in which he has gone six or more innings — he once again appeared somewhat mortal at Safeco Field, allowing three runs on seven hits while striking out six. All the Seattle’s damage against Verlander came in the third when three straight singles by Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan and Ichiro Suzuki led to one run, and then a Kyle Seager double scored two more to make it a 5-3 game.
Price Fielder extended Detroit’s lead when he crushed a solo home run to right field in the seventh. The Mariners answered back with a run in the bottom half of the inning when Ryan drove in Michael Saunders with a single, but that was all the damage they would do against Detroit’s bullpen a night after scoring three in the ninth for a comeback victory. Unlike Monday night, when closer Jose Valverde was unavailable, making way for Octavio Dotel to go into full meltdown mode, Valverde was on the hill to close out the ninth Tuesday.
Valverde no doubt had his manager Jim Leyland sweating in the clubhouse — he was ejected earlier in the game for arguing balls and strikes — when he walked Mike Carp and Michael Saunders to lead off the ninth. Valverde then struck out Ackley after the second baseman quickly got in an 0-2 hole attempting to bunt. Ryan then hit what looked like a game-ending double play, but Fielder couldn’t handle a low throw at first, keeping the Mariners alive.
After Ryan stole second, Suzuki was intentionally walked to bring Jesus Montero to the plate. Montero, who was a hero a day earlier with a game-tying double, flew out on a foul ball that right fielder Don Kelly caught while diving into the front row.
“It was a heck of a ballgame. Our guys didn’t lay down, they battled their tails off. When you’re down early against one of the better pitchers in the league, our guys didn’t give in at all.”
The Mariners didn’t give in, but in the end they finally found themselves on the losing side of a game with Detroit.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.