SEATTLE – Safeco Field was packed and primed, the fans ready for this long-awaited showdown series with the American League West-leading Los Angeles Angels.
Unfortunately, their boosters had much more zip than the Seattle Mariners themselves, and the home team was certainly no match for the visiting Angels in Monday night’s series opener.
With a chance to draw within one game in the late-season division chase, Seattle instead dropped three games back of the Angels with a 6-0 defeat before a disappointed sellout gathering of 45,998.
“It was just hard for us to get things rolling tonight,” said Seattle manager John McLaren. “But we’ll be ready for (tonight’s game). I’ve got confidence in those guys. We’ll be fine.”
Seattle’s chief nemesis was Angels starting pitcher John Lackey, who barely broke a sweat in taming the Mariners for the third time this season. Lackey worked eight innings, scattering seven hits and no runs, and he ran his scoreless string against Seattle in 2007 to 23 innings.
“He’s got great movement on the ball,” said Seattle manager John McLaren. “He’s always given us fits. ‘And he’s a great competitor. He’s got a bulldog attitude about him, and I’ve always admired the way he goes about his job.”
“He basically didn’t give us anything to work with,” said designated hitter Jose Vidro, who had two of Seattle’s hits against Lackey. “That was a great job by him tonight. He had his stuff working, that’s all. We as a group were shut down.”
Seattle starter Miguel Batista, meanwhile, was roughed up for 10 hits and six earned runs in his six innings. By the time he departed, the Angels had hit for the cycle and then some — a home run, a triple, three doubles and multiple singles.
It was a frustrating showing for Batista, who had been sharp at home the past two months, going 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA since June 30. But he was not that same pitcher this night, allowing Angels on base in every inning but one, the fifth.
Garrett Anderson got the Angels going with a home run in the second inning, and in the third he rapped a two-RBI double down the right field line.
The deficit reached 4-0 in the fourth, and this time the Mariners were guilty of some ragged defense. Gary Matthews Jr. tried to leg a single into a double, and Ichiro Suzuki’s throw from center field was easily ahead of the runner. But Jose Lopez made a half-hearted tag and Matthews managed to slip his foot into the base safely. He would later score on a squeeze bunt.
“(Lopez) had plenty of time to tag him,” McLaren said. “I’m not happy about that (play).”
It wasn’t the only thing McLaren wasn’t happy about. There was a lopsided loss, of course, but Seattle’s skipper also had a beef with the umpiring crew, and in particular third base umpire Jerry Meals.
It happened in the bottom of the first inning, after Suzuki chased a pitch in the dirt with two strikes. Suzuki tipped the ball — home plate umpire Gary Darling even made the foul-tip signal with his hands — but Suzuki and McLaren both claimed the ball hit the ground before it was caught by catcher Jeff Mathis.
McLaren came out and beefed briefly with Darling, but then escorted Suzuki back to the dugout.
As he neared the dugout, someone on the team told McLaren that a replay showed the ball hitting the ground. At which point, he said, “I just turned around and threw my hands up. And Jerry turned around and threw his hands up, and I was ejected immediately. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happened.”
McLaren went racing across the field and was nose to nose with Meals, and Seattle’s skipper got his money’s worth in scathing verbiage — well, adjectives mostly — before retiring to the clubhouse, courtesy of his second ejection of the season.
A media pool reporter asked Darling after the game how come the third base umpire got involved in a controversial call at the plate, to which Darling replied, “Go ask McLaren.”
And when Darling was asked why McLaren was ejected, he said simply, “Good-bye.”
Something Lackey and the Angels would say to all the Mariners the rest of the game.