By Rich Myhre
SEATTLE – Aaron Sele, like the rest of the Seattle Mariners, can be brilliant at times, very ordinary in others.
On Wednesday night, it was one of those “other” times for Sele and all his teammates.
Virtually flawless through three innings against the Kansas City Royals, Sele yielded four runs in the fourth and one more in the sixth, and ended up the losing pitcher in a 5-1 defeat. It was just the second loss in 14 decisions for Sele this season, and his first this month after wins in his first four July starts.
“I had the ball up (in the strike zone) all day,” Sele said. “And when you get the ball up, you pay the consequences. They took advantage of my mistakes.”
Sele started well, facing the minimum nine hitters through three innings and giving the appearance that he was on his way to another gem. But that prospect faded quickly in a rocky fourth.
Kansas City opened the inning with consecutive doubles by Neifi Perez, Rey Sanchez and Mike Sweeney for two runs. After an infield popup for the first out, ex-Mariner Raul Ibanez lashed a single to right, leaving men at the corners.
Gregg Zaun then lifted a fly to left field, with Sweeney tagging at third. Al Martin’s throw to home had a chance to retire Sweeney, but the ball struck the baserunner’s foot near the plate and caromed to the backstop with Ibanez moving to second. Ibanez then scored on Joe Randa’s sharp single to left, pushing the Royals to a 4-0 lead.
Kansas City scored again in the sixth on a two-out walk and back-to-back singles. Sele faced one more hitter, getting the final out, and his evening’s work was done. He left with a rare feeling of frustration.
“I think (a bad outing) gnaws at you whether you’ve had a few of them or a lot of them,” said Sele, who has been as steady as any American League pitcher this season. “You want to go out there and pitch well and give your team a chance to win. I was able to hold it close for a few innings, but they took advantage of some balls that were up.
“Starting pitchers try to pitch deep into the game and keep the game close,” he said. “I felt like I pitched deep enough, but I didn’t keep it close.”
Kansas City’s four-run fourth ended a string of 21 1/3 scoreless innings by Sele. The right-hander had not given up a run since the seventh inning of a July 8 game in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
Offensively, meanwhile, the Mariners were a meager bunch against Kansas City starter Paul Byrd. Despite a recent string of ineffective outings – the 30-year-old journeyman was 0-3 with a 5.17 earned run average in his last six starts – he checked Seattle on just six hits and one walk. They may lead the American League in runs scored, but the Mariners never had a whiff of a scoring chance until their last at-bat, when they finally advanced a baserunner past second base.
In the ninth, the Mariners put their only blemish in Byrd’s performance with a John Olerud double, a Mike Cameron single and a long sacrifice fly to center field by Martin.
“They came out swinging the bats and we didn’t,” said Cameron, back in the lineup after a one-game absence for the birth of his son. “If you don’t get any guys on, you can’t score any runs. That’s basically the bottom line.”
It was the second consecutive game a Royals pitcher has tamed the Mariners. On Tuesday night, righty Kris Wilson stopped Seattle on seven hits with seven strikeouts in his eight innings of Kansas City’s 6-1 victory.
Having dropped the first two of this three-game series, the Mariners will lose just their fifth series of the season and their first since a June 26-28 set against Oakland. The irony is that all of Seattle’s series defeats have come at home.
Wednesday’s game was watched by a Safeco Field sellout crowd of 45,265. That number pushed the team’s season total to 2,006,227, making this the sixth consecutive season and the eighth overall the Mariners have drawn 2 million fans. It happened in 48 games, a team record, surpassing the previous mark of 52 games set in 1997, when the team still played at the Kingdome.