It was the kind of game that drives fans mad: getting runners into scoring position in each of the first five innings only to come up short each time. Through five, Joe Saunders had allowed eight baserunners but stranded all of them, up 1-0 on the strength of doubles by Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez. You can only attribute that kind of performance to luck (and, well, maybe the fact that several members of the bench were starting today). Something had to give, and it did in the sixth, when Steve Pearce led off with a walk and lefty-masher Danny Valencia pulled a fastball into the left-center seats to make it 2-1 O's.
Wei-Yin Chen was great without needing that kind of luck, allowing only five baserunners through six, but his late-inning woes continued. He's known for spectacularly faltering late in games, and he added fuel to that fire today. In the top of the seventh, he walked the #7 and #8 batters (including Brendan Ryan!) before giving up a home run to Henry Blanco to make it 3-2 Mariners. Thankfully, it was only a two-run shot as Michael Saunders had been picked off in between walks.
If anything, it was the 16-pitch at-bat that Justin Smoak had in the fourth inning that led to this moment. Smoak's battle drove Chen's pitch count way up, leaving him in a vulnerable position in the seventh. You could also fault Buck for yet again failing to pull Chen when signs of trouble appeared late in the game. For his career, Chen has a 6.88 ERA in the 7th inning, and the third time he faces a batter in a game, they slug .471 off him. These numbers are too scary to entrust a late-inning one-run lead to Mr. Chen, especially this close to the end of the season with the Orioles now 1.5 games out of a wild card spot.
Still, three earned runs in seven innings is a good performance. This one is on the offense, which is unfortunate because the O's bats looked good early on. Despite failing to score, they made Saunders throw a lot of pitches, many with runners on base. Chris Davis turned several 0-2 counts into extended appearances (and didn't strike out), Nick Markakis had two hits and a walk, and Valencia had a double in addition to his home run. Alexi Casilla and J.J. Hardy also had some good at-bats.
Of course the patience disappeared as the game wore on and dropped off markedly after Blanco's go-ahead home run. The O's saw nine pitches in the seventh, 11 in the eighth, and nine again in the ninth. Credit Seattle's bullpen weapons of Yoervis Medina and Danny Farqhuar for working three perfect innings and striking out five.
The loss drops the O's to 61-51 and seals another series loss for them. As I write this, Boston and Tampa Bay are leading in their respective games. The Mariners improve to 52-59.
The O's now leave for a West Coast road trip that starts against the Padres tomorrow night.