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Bullpen follies

In last night's game against the Cleveland Native American Stereotypes, the Mariner bullpen pulled off quite an achievement. Well, "achievement" . . . there are probably better words. But the relief corps, known from the get-go as a problem area for the Mariners this season, turned in an eighth inning for the history books.

Yusei Kikuchi started yesterday's contest and was shaky in the first couple of innings before settling into an impressive rhythm; he left after six full innings, behind 3-1 but with his team in striking distance. Newly-promoted R.J. Alaniz and lefty Zac Rosscup got through the seventh without damage. Then came the eighth. It went like this:

  • Rosscup pitching
  • José Ramírez walks.
  • José Ramírez steals second base without a throw.
  • Carlos González strikes out.
  • Connor Sadzeck replaces Rosscup
  • Carlos Santana walks.
  • Wild pitch advances Ramírez and Santana to third and second.
  • Wild pitch scores Ramírez, Santana to third.
  • Hanley Ramírez strikes out.
  • Jason Kipnis walks.
  • Shawn Armstrong replaces Sadzeck
  • Roberto Pérez walks.
  • Greg Allen hit by a pitch, Santana scores, RBI.
  • Eric Stamets strikes out.

Three Mariner pitchers, eight Cleveland batters, two runs across . . . zero balls put in play.

The Indians scored twice without the benefit of swinging the bat. The only contact made in the whole sequence were a couple of unplayable foul balls.

There is a special aura of failure here. Not only did Cleveland score without a hit—that happens a lot, and often it's due to smart baseball on the part of the scoring team—but they scored—twice—just by standing in the batter's box. They didn't even have to foul off a potential strike three (González and Hanley Ramírez did, but they struck out anyway), they just had to stand there and watch. What's worse is that this is a Cleveland team that came into the game batting a collective .194. Pérez and Allen were at .161 and .045, respectively.

To say these two runs were presents wrapped up in a pretty bow and handed to the Clevelanders would be underselling it. It's more like they were offerings of sacrifice to the altar of a godhead, served timidly by humble supplicants. "Oh, mighty .194-batting Cleveland Indians, we meager and unworthy subjects from the Seattle relief sect doth bring you these gifts of insurance runs, as we fear your fierce wrath and wish to cower at your feet lest you beat us with your majestic clubs of ash and maple. Please accept these, plus the unearned run to come from our brother in the home infield position of shortstop, and spare us from your Herculean power, as evidenced by your 15th-place AL standing in hits and batting average and your 14th-place standing in homers, total bases, and OPS."

We knew the bullpen was going to be an issue this year. Unevenness, mistakes borne of inexperience, just plain hittable stuff was to be expected from time to time. But an inning like this? That's . . . new. And the Mariners scored three of their own runs, in a more traditional manner involving hitting the ball, in the bottom of the eighth. So without those two gift runs, they may well have entered the ninth inning with the lead, poised to complete a remarkable comeback instead of finish out what was easily the worst game of the season thus far.

Alas. Can the M's recover tonight? Tune in at 7:10 to find out.

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