By Ryan Divish
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — The defense cost the Seattle Mariners and Yusei Kikuchi a chance at a win and the bullpen made sure the looming loss stayed that way.
When the obituary for the 2019 Mariners season is written — well, it probably could’ve been written weeks ago — the lethargic and inconsistent defense and the unpredictable and unproductive bullpen, both expected problems, will be listed as the main causes of its extermination.
On a night when the up-and-down season of Kikuchi took an upward push in his final start before the All-Star break, the Mariners’ two main maladies disrupted his hopes of victory. Toss in a listless offense that mustered only five hits and didn’t provide much of a threat, and you get a 5-2 loss to the Oakland A’s.
After winning back-to-back series against the Orioles and Brewers, the Mariners have now lost seven out of their last eight games.
Kikuchi delivered his best outing since the first weeks of May, pitching seven innings and allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
He pitched with a confidence and rhythm that he’d been trying to relocate for weeks. He exhibited a fastball with life, velocity and command that allowed his breaking pitches to be more effective. More importantly, you could tell he was feeling it on the mound. He attacked hitters with emotion and aggressiveness instead some of the passive pitching he’d displayed during his struggles.
Kikuchi had 2-1 lead going into the seventh inning when the Mariners defense, which had been relatively adequate in recent weeks, served up a reminder of its potential to sabotage success.
Following Matt Olson’s double into right, Khris Davis hit a soft liner into right field for a single. The not-so-speedy Olson had no intention of trying to score on the play and was stopping at third base. Well, that is until Domingo Santana mishandled the bouncing ball, trying to ready himself to throw to the plate.
After finally picking up the ball, Santana fired home. The throw wasn’t awful. But it bounced just in front of the plate. Catcher Tom Murphy didn’t get a piece of the ball as Olson slid into home. Kikuchi was backing up on the play, but Davis still advanced to second.
Santana was charged with two errors on the play as the A’s tied the game. The two errors gave him 12 on the season – nine in left field and three in right field – the most of any outfielder in Major League Baseball.
That extra-base advancement loomed large as Davis moved to third on Mark Canha’s ground-ball out to first. Moments later he sprinted home on Ramon Laureano’s sac fly to left field for what would be the decisive run.
Any hope of a late rally ended in the ninth when Dan Altavilla walked back-to-back hitters with one out and gave up a two-out, two-run double to pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman that effectively put the game out of reach.
The Mariners, more specifically Mallex Smith, manufactured a run in the first inning off Anderson for an early lead.
Smith led off the game with a single up the middle. With J.P. Crawford at the plate, Anderson tried a pickoff move to first base. Smith was stealing and left on Anderson’s first move. Smith looked like he would beat the throw to second from first baseman Olson. But it didn’t matter since Olson’s throw was wide of the base and sailed into left-center field. Smith hustled to third on the error.
With Smith doing all the work, Crawford lifted a line drive into right field for a run-scoring sac fly to make it 1-0.
The A’s answered with their first run off Kikuchi in the third inning. Franklin Barreto, Oakland’s No. 9 hitter, golfed a low slider over the wall in left field for a solo homer that tied the game at 1-1.