ANAHEIM, Calif. — Whiff!
The Seattle Mariners had plenty of baserunners against Zack Greinke and four Los Angeles Angels relievers, who combined for 20 strikeouts to tie a major league record for a nine-inning game.
Leadoff batter Dustin Ackley struck out all three times up against Greinke, who had a season-high 13 Ks in just five innings en route to a 5-4 victory over the Mariners on Tuesday night. Everyone in Seattle’s starting lineup fanned at least once, including Justin Smoak, who homered from both sides of the plate to raise his season total to 18.
“It was an odd game,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “You make a very good starting pitcher throw 110 pitches in five innings — a lot of that is because of his strikeouts — but we had some long ABs and we hit the ball decent. Smoak had a great night for us again, which was great to see. That’s huge for him and huge for us.”
Smoak got the Mariners on the board in the fourth with a first-pitch homer to right field, trimming the Angels’ lead to 2-1 after a fielding error by third baseman Kyle Seager on a routine grounder by Mike Trout led to a pair of unearned runs in the first against Erasmo Ramirez (1-3).
Smoak’s second homer was a two-run shot in the seventh off lefty Scott Downs, cutting the margin to 5-4 after Franklin Gutierrez hit an RBI double that ended a 1-for-47 stretch by the Mariners’ offense with runners in scoring position. Smoak is batting .212 with 48 RBIs in 124 games. But in 18 games this month, he is hitting .362 with four homers and eight RBIs.
“It definitely hasn’t been a good year for me,” Smoak said. “There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been working on through the whole year, (more) left-handed than right-handed, and I’m at a place now where I feel like I’ve found something that’s working more times than not.”
Ramirez was charged with five runs — three earned — and seven hits over six innings in his seventh major league start. Torii Hunter hit a two-run homer against him in the fifth, and Erick Aybar added a solo shot in the sixth. Mariners pitchers have allowed 100 home runs on the road and 60 at Safeco Field.
“Erasmo has been throwing the ball well. He did again tonight, and he deserved a better fate than that,” Wedge said. “We made the first inning tough for him. Later on he hung a slider to Hunter, and Aybar turned that fastball around. I don’t know how he got to it, but he’s been swinging the bat really well.”
Greinke (6-2) won his fifth straight decision over seven starts, allowing seven hits and escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by striking out Eric Thames. The 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner came within two strikeouts of his career best, which came on Aug. 25, 2009, with Kansas City against Cleveland.
“We just missed some pitches we needed to get to, but Greinke threw the ball well,” Wedge said. “He had that big slow breaking ball that he can drop in there at any time. He led with it and threw it 2-0 a lot of times. And of course he has a good fastball and a strong changeup tonight, too.”
Greinke struck out seven of his first 11 batters, leaving after 110 pitches because of a pitch count set by manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher — which burned the Angels in each of the right-hander’s previous two outings.
According to ESPN Stats, Greinke became the first pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1920) to strike out 13 batters in a start that lasted only five innings. Randy Johnson had 13 through his first five frames on July 4, 2001, for Arizona against Houston, but he threw one more inning.
In all, Greinke has 16 wins this season, tying his career high. The nine-year veteran has a 3.40 ERA in 12 starts since joining the Angels in a trade with Milwaukee on July 27. He was 9-2 with a 3.44 ERA in 21 starts for the Brewers.
“Greinke’s got good stuff, so we knew coming in tonight that we had to go out there swinging in every at-bat,” Smoak said. “We had some good at-bats against him, but we couldn’t put that ball in play with two strikes. When a guy throws stuff like that, you just go up there and battle. And he definitely won most of those battles tonight.”
Garrett Richards relieved Greinke and struck out the side in the sixth before giving way to Downs. Kevin Jepsen threw 1 1-3 scoreless innings, and Ernesto Frieri pitched a perfect ninth for his 22nd save in 24 chances — ending it by striking out Seager and John Jaso.
“You even put 10 of those balls in play tonight and it’s a different game. That’s the bottom line,” Wedge said. “We’ve talked about getting guys on and creating situations for ourselves. But you’ve got to make them play defense, put the ball in play and battle through at-bats. We have to do a better job squaring up fastballs that we’re missing early and putting the ball in play with two strikes.”
NOTES: Mariners OF Michael Saunders was in Castle Rock, Colo., for the birth of his daughter, after flying out of Seattle following Sunday’s game. ... The Mariners’ loss assured them of their third straight losing season since finishing 85-77 in 2009 under Don Wakamatsu. ... The Mariners have homered in 14 straight games.