Opportunities slip away from Mariners
Early lead dissolves, no clutch hit appears in 11 innings
CLEVELAND -- How quickly things can change.Russell Branyan, one of the heroes of Friday's win, couldn't step up when his team needed him most and Randy Messenger, making his first appearance in the Majors this season, gave up the deciding blow in the Mariners' 4-3 loss in 11 innings to the Indians on Saturday night at Progressive Field. Seattle let too many opportunities slip away, and in the process slipped even further back in the American League Wild Card standings. "We did not play well enough to win," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "It came down to the offense's inability to score runs." Branyan and the newly acquired Bill Hall were coming off a big night, in which they combined for four hits and four RBIs in a nine-run outburst for the Mariners. But they, like the rest of the team, were unable to get a clutch hit when the team needed it. In all, the Mariners were just a combined 1-of-10 with runners in scoring position. "We had several opportunities," Wakamatsu said. After the Indians tied the game in the seventh on an error by left fielder Michael Saunders, Mike Sweeney doubled to lead off the eighth. He was replaced by pinch-runner Ryan Langerhans, who moved to third on a wild pitch. But the Mariners failed to score when Branyan, who hit his 30th homer in the first inning to give Seattle a 3-0 lead, and Hall stuck out and Kenji Johjima grounded out to shortstop to end the threat. The Mariners wasted another leadoff double in the 10th off the bat of Jose Lopez. The Mariners second baseman moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Langerhans. That brought up Branyan and Hall for the second time. They needed just a sacrifice fly or even a well place ground out for the win. But Branyan stuck out for the third straight time and Hall followed that with his second successive strikeout. That led the bullpen, which was already overused, to have to pitch even longer. The Mariners had prepared for this exact situation just hours before. Before the game, the Mariners sent down Chris Jakubauskas and brought up Messenger from Triple-A Tacoma. It was a move to give Wakamatsu more flexibility in the 'pen as Jakubauskas had pitched a lot recently. But on this night, the move didn't pay dividends. Messenger got the first two batters out in the 11th, but then fell behind, 2-0, on light-hitting second baseman Luis Valbuena, who was his teammate at Triple-A last season. Rather than walk Valbuena, Messenger threw him a fastball that drifted over the plate and then landed in the seats to give the Indians the walk-off win. "In that situation, no," Messenger said when asked if he had seen that kind of power from Valbuena. "If it was [Travis] Hafner there, I'm probably a little more careful. But it came across and he hit it deep." But Wakamatsu wouldn't place the game on his reliever's shoulders. "You'd like to get guys in when it's not so crucial," Wakamatsu said. "It's a game that should have been long over." The loss was the Mariners' sixth in their past nine games and are now 7 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card chase.
Matt O'Donnell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.