SEATTLE — Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager insists he never took his eyes off the hard grounder shooting right at him on the pivotal play of this game.
Few would forgive him for doing so, since speedy Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels was breaking from third to home on a contact play. Seager was going to throw home, but instead let the grounder get by him for a two-base error that opened the gates for a four-run eighth inning and a 5-2 loss on Saturday to the surging Angels.
It was ultimately the plays the Mariners didn’t make in the field and at the plate that came back to haunt them big in Felix Hernandez’s first loss in nearly three months.
“I saw him going,” Seager said of Trout. “I mean, it’s a contact play. Trout runs well, but if I’d caught the ball, he would have been out pretty easily. It’s just a play where I got caught in between hops and wasn’t able to make the play.
“I should have been able to make the play.”
Instead, Hernandez was on his way to allowing four runs that inning — three of them earned — to take his first defeat since June 12 against San Diego. He’d reeled off an impressive 9-0 record with a 1.40 earned-run average over that stretch and seemed en route to another victory in front of 22,910 at Safeco Field.
But the Mariners couldn’t finish the job and took their second straight defeat at home — the first time that’s happened since July 3-4 against Baltimore. Hernandez is now 0-3 with a 5.82 ERA against the Angels this season. His overall ERA climbed from 2.43 to 2.51 with the loss.
“I felt good, I made good pitches,” said Hernandez, who entered the eighth with a 2-1 lead and a pitch count of 103. “I gave up a couple of ground balls that passed through to the outfield. That happens.”
The Mariners had scored a pair of third-inning runs off Angels starter Ervin Santana to overcome a 1-0 deficit. Trayvon Robinson tied the game with a solo homer to right center — the 32nd given up by Santana this season, tying for the major league lead — and then Franklin Gutierrez doubled home Dustin Ackley later that frame.
Hernandez might have emerged with a different fate had the Mariners been able to add to their advantage. But following the trend of late, when much of their scoring has been limited to an inning or two, they were unable to cash in.
Justin Smoak led off the fifth inning with a double, but was stranded by two flyouts and an Ackley strikeout. Then, in the seventh, with two men on, Brendan Ryan popped out to end that frame.
Trout opened the next inning with a single, and then Torii Hunter drilled an 0-2 slider into center field to put runners at the corners with none out.
Things spiraled downhill in a hurry after that. Seager’s error scored the tying run and left runners at second and third. After an out, Mark Trumbo then singled to left to score two more runs and give the Angels the lead for good.
Hernandez was pulled from there. Stephen Pryor came on and uncorked a wild pitch, then yielded a run-scoring double to Howie Kendrick.
The Mariners had Pryor warmed up and ready, but opted to go with Hernandez to start the eighth with the top of the order due up. The top three of the Angels’ order — Trout, Hunter and Albert Pujols — finished 6 for 14 against Hernandez.
But Mariners manager Eric Wedge felt Hernandez gave him his best chance to hold the lead at that point.
“He’s in control of the ballgame, he’s got a reasonable pitch count and has been there before and handled it very well,” Wedge said. “And he’s still strong. He’s one ... of the best pitchers in baseball, and there was not a better option for us in that eighth inning than Felix as long as he’s still in a good spot. And he was.”
Wedge said the Mariners have to be careful of being too reliant on Hernandez to carry them — something that happened in three 1-0 wins in August.
“We had multiple opportunities to add on,” Wedge said. “If we could add on a couple of times to make it 3-1, or even 4-1, it’s a different ballgame.
“And that’s where we really needed to do a better job.”