By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE – In this numbers game that is holding the Seattle Mariners’ interest these days, the ones they coughed up in the ninth and 10th innings Tuesday weren’t the stuff of the greatness that they’re chasing.
The Mariners, trying to win their 100th game of the season and continue a chase for the best single-season record in baseball history, allowed seven runs in the ninth and 10th innings as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays recorded an 8-3 rout at Safeco Field.
“I don’t think there should be a whole lot of concern,” third baseman David Bell said. “It’s going to happen. The good thing about what our team does is that everybody works through things like this.”
The bullpen collapse – Kazuhiro Sasaki allowed a run and lost a 2-1 lead in the ninth, and Norm Charlton and Jose Paniagua combined to give up six in the 10th – spoiled more than a chance at 100 victories.
It wasted Freddy Garcia’s three-hit dominance through eight innings and Mike Cameron’s two-run home run that had the appearance of the game-winner in the eighth.
Then, three outs away from pulling their record to 100-39, Sasaki threw a no-ball, two-strike fastball over the plate to Chris Gomez that changed the game.
He bounced it over the right-field fence for a leadoff ground-rule double. Gomez went to third on Jason Tyner’s ground out. Sasaki again threw two quick strikes to set up Brent Abernathy, then lost him and the save.
Abernathy lashed a 1-2 pitch into center field for a run-scoring single that tied the score 2-2. Sasaki got two fly outs to end the inning and, after the Mariners went three-and-out in the bottom of the ninth, got the first out in the 10th.
Manager Lou Piniella brought Charlton, a left-hander, to face Ben Grieve, but Charlton walked him.
Piniella then pulled Paniagua from the bullpen and the Devil Rays began a whirlwind around the bases. Jose Guillen singled, Felix Martinez singled to score a run, Jason Tyner dropped a squeeze bunt that easily got home another, and Abernathy, Randy Winn and Steve Cox each ripped run-scoring hits.
Afterward, Tampa Bay manager Hal McRae sounded more like the manager of that 99-victory team and not the 50-89 Devil Rays. Before Tuesday night, the Devil Rays were 0-82 when trailing after eight innings.
“We’ve never quit,” he said. “We could’ve quit when we were down 2-1. The guys have responded all year.”
The other manager, Piniella, didn’t bother responding to the media.
The six-run deficit rendered Bret Boone’s 10th inning home run as hollow as it was historic. It was Boone’s 33rd of the season, and his 32nd while playing second base to tie the American League single-season record for second basemen set by Joe Gordon in 1948. Boone hit one as a pinch hitter.
Garcia was the most unfortunate victim of the collapse.
He needed just 86 pitches to get through eighth innings, allowing only three hits. The only one that hurt him was a full-count fastball that Cox pulled into the right-field seats for a leadoff home run in the second inning for a 1-0 Devil Rays lead.
Garcia retired 18 of the next 19 hitters he faced, then got a pep talk and a pat on the shoulder from pitching coach Bryan Price, who explained that the right-hander wouldn’t have a chance to get his fourth complete game this season.
Sasaki, who got his 41st save on Sunday despite allowing two hits, blew his seventh this time, along with Garcia’s opportunity to go 16-5.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve gone through it this year,” catcher Tom Lampkin said. “You just shrug it off and come back tomorrow.”
The Mariners, who have scored more than four runs only twice in their last 11 games, spent seven innings nicking Devil Rays starter Tanyon Sturtze with eight hits but couldn’t get the timely blow with runners in scoring position. They had such opportunities four times in the first six innings.
The hidden demon in Sturtze’s effectiveness was his pitch count – 120 – and he was finished after seven innings.
Right-hander Victor Zambrano took over in the eighth and the Mariners finally broke through. He hit Boone with one out, then served a thigh-high fastball over the outside half of the plate to Cameron, who lifted a fly to the opposite field that barely reached the seats.
The Mariners lost a couple of streaks in the loss.
Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-5 to stop a seven-game streak, and the crowd of 44,859 was the first non-sellout at Safeco Field in 37 games, dating back to June 5.
The loss also carried a price health-wise, although nobody will know how much until Carlos Guillen walks into the clubhouse today.
Guillen stepped on Cox’s foot at first base while beating out an infield single in the second inning and twisted his ankle. Guillen, who has stayed healthy this season after a career full of injuries in the minor and major leagues, played one more inning but couldn’t go any more.
Trainer Rick Griffin said Guillen is day-to-day.