Mariners fall prey to walk-off Tigers
Seattle allows Detroit to crawl back after four-run lead
DETROIT -- Two scintillating defensive plays in the eighth inning enabled the Mariners to cling to a one-run lead.
But right-handed closer David Aardsma, one of the best lead-protectors in the Major Leagues this season, was unable to overcome a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth inning and the free pass lit the fuse for a stomach-punching 7-6 loss to the Tigers before 31,167 at Comerica Park on Thursday afternoon.
The series finale was delayed by rain for 58 minutes in the sixth inning and when play resumed, the Tigers scored three runs to erase most of a four-run deficit and the decisive runs in the ninth to prevent the Mariners from winning their 24th series of the season.
Almost half the Mariners in the starting lineup hit home runs off former teammate Jarrod Washburn as Seattle built a 6-2 lead before a torrential downpour hit. And even though the Tigers scored all three runners that were on base at the time of the delay, Seattle's defense appeared to save the game in the eighth inning.
With runners on first and second with one out, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez ran down a drive into the left-center field gap for the second out. As soon as the fans settled down a bit, they were cheering again when Placido Polanco hit a popup into shallow left field.
Mariners shortstop Josh Wilson turned his back to the infield, raced into left field, stuck his glove up at the last instant and snagged the ball for a highlight-reel, inning-ending out.
"Those were two fabulous plays," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "And we put ourselves in position to win."
The beginning of the end started when Aardsma walked pinch-hitter Carlos Guillen to start the ninth. Ryan Raburn fouled out near the visitor's dugout, but Miguel Cabrera doubled into the right-field corner.
After the Mariners walked Magglio Ordonez intentionally, Brandon Inge hit a game-tying sacrifice fly to center. Gutierrez made an on-the-mark throw to the plate, but it arrived at the same time as Guillen. Kenji Johjima put himself in position to block the plate, but the collision prevented him from fielding the ball cleanly.
The runners advanced to second and third bases and Clete Thomas followed with a walk-off single into right field.
Aardsma agonized more over the leadoff walk than the game-ending single.
"When you go out there and get that first batter out," he said, "it makes the inning so much easier. The walk set the tone for the whole inning."
"With [Aardsma] it's so critical to come into that ninth inning and get that leadoff man," the manager said. "No matter what you do, a walk is never going to be beneficial. It leads to momentum and when you have the kind of hitter Cabrera is coming up in that inning, he's going to hurt you. It ended up costing us."
Aardsma said the pitch that Cabrera drilled into the right-field corner, "was a good pitch, but he's a good hitter and hit it right down the line."
The Seattle closer, now 28-for-32 in save situations, also thought the pitch Thomas hit past a lunging Russell Branyan at first base for the game-winner was also a good one."It was right where I wanted it," he said. "It was down-and-in, probably a ball, actually. But he just dropped the head of the bat on it."
"I was looking for a fastball to hit. I was lucky to get the bat on it," Thomas said.
Chalk this up to one of the toughest losses of the season for the Mariners, who dropped to 62-59 and are now 28-15 in one-run games.
"I thought we came in here and battled for three days," Wakamatsu said. "We put ourselves in position to win all three games in the eighth inning or later and if you would have said we'd do that, I'd have been awfully proud.
"There are some things you have to do to close out ballgames, and it only matters if you close them out. This was a tough loss. We battled all day long and if you had said we would hit four home runs and lose, I would have thought you'd be crazy."
Not crazy, but definitely accurate.
Jose Lopez, Mike Sweeney, Johjima and Branyan socked home runs off Washburn, giving the Mariners a four-run lead after 5 1/2 innings.
Right-handed reliever Chris Jakubauskas, who had just started his warm-up tosses after replacing starter Ryan Rowland-Smith, returned to the mound and surrendered an infield out and two-run single, cutting Seattle's lead to one.
The long-ball barrage equaled the single-game high this season, first accomplished on July 21 -- against the Tigers at Comerica Park.
The Mariners used extra-base hits to jump out to a lead against their former teammate.
Ichiro hit Washburn's third pitch of the game into left-center for a leadoff double, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored when Sweeney hit a sacrifice fly to center field.
Ichiro's hit extended his latest hitting streak to 11 games -- the 33rd time in his MLB career that he's had hitting streaks reach double digits.
The second-most 10-plus-game hitting streaks belongs to Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada, who has 28 during the past eight-plus seasons.
The Mariners extended their lead to three runs in the third inning when Lopez cracked a two-out, two-run home run to left field, his 16th of the season, and Johjima got in the long-ball act in the fourth with a solo shot to left.
Sweeney joined in the fun with one out in the sixth and Branyan made it back-to-back jacks with a 425-foot blast deep into the right-field seats.
Rowland-Smith was stellar for the first three innings, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced, but he "lost concentration" in the fourth and fifth inning and the Tigers surged back.Rowland-Smith was hit on his right calf in the first inning and Jakubauskas had a cramp behind his right shoulder after play resumed in the sixth inning. However, both are believed to be fine, according to Wakamatsu.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.