Quality baseball early, then Mariners crumble late

I’m not sure what the expression “hell in handbasket” really means, although I think I saw it before my eyes in the middle and late innings of the Mariners’ 11-6 loss tonight to the Texas Rangers.

The Mariners led 5-2 and starting pitcher Doug Fister had made his way nicely through the minefield that is the Texas Rangers offense after four innings.

Then the fifth happened. And so did some sloppy baseball that cost the Mariners their 68th loss this season.

Fister tried to tie up David Murphy with a two-strike fastball but left it over the plate, and the left-handed-hitting Murphy crushed it well over the right-field fence for a three-run homer in the fifth. Fister gave up two more hits before he was pulled, and Mitch Moreland grounded an RBI single off left-hander Chris Seddon before he got out of the inning.

In the eighth, the Mariners showed what happens when you give the Rangers two extra outs to play with. They loaded the bases on reliever Garrett Olson even though he’d gotten Moreland to hit a pop foul and Elvis Andrus to hit a soft grounder, each of which could have — and should have — been the third out.

Instead, Moreland’s popup bounced off the padded railing in front of the Rangers dugout when catcher Adam Moore got a late break because he didn’t see it and third baseman Jose Lopez couldn’t reach it after a long run. The closest person to the ball was Rangers manager Ron Washington, and he was bolting down the steps to get out of the way of a Mariners defender who never arrived. Morland used his extra life to hit a single and extend the inning.

Andrus, the next hitter, hit a grounder that Lopez scooped up a few steps into the infield grass. However, he double-clutched to get a better grip on the baseball and the speedy Andrus beat his throw to first for a hit.

One pitch later, Michael Young hit a grand slam.

Those are some of the reasons a team loses 68 of 108 games, even though the Mariners’ offense actually had a decent night against a starting pitcher who has haunted them this season. C.J. Wilson battled his control and the Mariners made him pay with two runs in the first inning and two in the third on Moore’s two-run homer.

That blast broke a 2-2 tie, and the Mariners not only added on with a run in the fourth on Franklin Gutierrez’s RBI double, they took away two in the top of the fifth when Gutierrez made a leaping catch against the center-field wall to rob Vlad Guerrero of a two-run homer.

“It was two different ballgames for us,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Early, we did a lot of things right. The three-run homer run and the grand slam are two pitches that cost you the game. It comes down to being able to get those guys out.”

True, although Young wouldn’t have batted in the seventh had the Mariners made plays on routine balls.

Even off the field it was a tough night.

As we wrote in an earlier post tonight, all isn’t well with reliever Shawn Kelley and he has been scratched from his scheduled rehab outing Thursday night for the Everett AquaSox. He was supposed to pitch two innings, but he experienced soreness in his right elbow at some point after he’d pitched an inning Monday night for the Tacoma Rainiers in his first rehab outing.

We’ll know more Thursday about Kelley, who has been on the disabled list since June 16 because of inflammation in his right elbow.

“Just some tenderness,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s going to get it checked out tomorrow.”

While it would be jumping to conclusions to get overly concerned about Kelley now, especially considering it would be foolish to rush him back in a season like this, it’s also important to keep in mind that he has exprienced elbow problems in the past.

In 2003, while pitching for Austin Peay, he underwent “Tommy John” ligament surgery. In 2007, after being drafted by the Mariners in the 13th round and climbing from the AquaSox to Class A Wisconsin, he went on the DL in late June and missed the rest of the season because of an elbow strain. Since then, he hadn’t experienced any disabling arm injuries until the problem in mid-June this year.

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