Mariners unable to deliver for French
Seattle strands runners late; rook allows four unearned runs
SEATTLE -- It wasn't his fault that he was tagged with the loss in this one, really, because Mariners starter Luke French didn't allow a single earned run in six innings against the Yankees on Saturday.
But the Mariners have had trouble catching a break lately, and when they created one big one for the Yankees in the second inning, the American League's best team took full advantage.
Four unearned runs in that frame was all New York needed in a 5-2 win over Seattle, as Yankees pitchers nipped a couple of late-inning rallies to send the Safeco Field crowd of 44,272 home unhappy for the third consecutive night.
The Yankees might never have scored against French had center fielder Franklin Gutierrez not dropped a Melky Cabrera fly ball in the second inning with one out and a runner on first. Seattle had taken a 1-0 lead in the first on a sacrifice fly by Jose Lopez.
But on Cabrera's fly ball, Ichiro Suzuki came over from right field at the last second as Gutierrez settled under it, distracting him just enough to allow the ball to bounce off his glove.
"At first, I called for it," Ichiro said through an interpreter. "But then I heard Gutierrez call for it, so I got out of the way."
So with runners on first and second and just one out, instead of one on with two outs, Jose Molina singled in a run, Derek Jeter scored another with a sacrifice fly and Nick Swisher hit a two-out, two-run home run to left field to give New York a 4-1 lead.
"I think we've played solid defense most of the year," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "The last two days, playing against a team that maybe you respect a little bit and you put some pressure on yourself, and you make mistakes that cost you. With French out there pitching today, four unearned runs in the second, it's awfully hard to come back over that error."
Other than that unlucky second, French was solid in his second Safeco start. He allowed seven hits in six innings, walked three and struck out two. The Yankees only really threatened again in the third, when French got Cabrera to end the inning on a flyout to left with runners on second and third.
Wakamatsu thought French looked like he was holding back in the first three innings, which caused him to run his pitch count up a little bit. But French settled down after his manager told him to just let it fly, and the rookie allowed only two baserunners in his final three innings.
"I was just kind of holding back a little bit," French said. "I was trying to be too fine, I guess, trying to place pitches, and in return, I kind of got soft I guess -- best way to put it. After he mentioned that to me, I just went out there and just let it rip, and the results were a lot better."
But the Mariners had just as hard of a time figuring out Yankees starter Sergio Mitre, and two rallies against New York's bullpen fell just short.
Seattle loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning against reliever David Robertson, but Josh Wilson struck out swinging, and Ryan Langerhans took a borderline 3-2 pitch for a called strike three to end the inning.
Replays showed that it may have been a little low.
"I thought he threw him one strike the whole at-bat," Wakamatsu said. "I told him, 'That was a tremendous at-bat you had.' Beyond that, it's baseball."
And again in the seventh, the Mariners put runners on first and second with one out. But Ken Griffey Jr. struck out swinging, and Ichiro broke for third on a 2-0 pitch to Russell Branyan and was thrown out by about 10 feet to end the inning.
Wakamatsu said it was simply a case of Ichiro being a little overaggressive.
"You're playing a team, just like any game, you want to beat," Wakamatsu said. "And he just pushed the envelope a little bit too much there. With Russell at the plate, you've got a chance to maybe win a game or put you ahead there. Probably being a little overaggressive."
Ichiro said he understood the situation, but that he was trying to put two runners in scoring position -- banking on a double steal -- so that the Mariners could tie the game if Branyan got a hit of any kind.
"It is as you see," Ichiro said. "I thought about many different things before I made the attempt. I was aware that Russell was the batter, and I was also aware that if Russell hit a home run in that situation, we would have taken the lead. I took all of that into consideration and made my move."
It was a costly one. The Mariners went down 1-2-3 in the eighth, then after Jeter homered to right field in the ninth to add some cushion, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera struck out Gutierrez and got Lopez to fly out to pick up his 35th save in the ninth, stranding runners on first and second.
It wasn't that the Mariners couldn't get any hits -- they had 10 of them -- they just couldn't get any when it mattered most, and they had trouble even putting the ball in play with men in scoring position after the sixth inning. Seattle hitters were 1-for-6 in those situations over the final four innings, with four strikeouts. Yankees pitchers struck out 11 batters, and have whiffed 10 or more in all three games of this four-game series that ends Sunday afternoon.
"Offensively, I thought we battled," Wakamatsu said. "We got 10 hits."
And one too many errors.
Christian Caple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.