BOSTON — A stunned group of Mariners had culprits all around them as they packed up from a demoralizing sweep.
There was the closer who couldn’t get anybody out with a five-run lead in the ninth; the manager who tapped the wrong arm and was forced to use a pitcher he didn’t want in a key situation. There was the umpire who missed a critical strike call, as well as the final two relievers who gave up the remaining runs of a stunning, 8-7 loss on Thursday night to the Boston Red Sox.
But the bottom line was, the Mariners, once again, just couldn’t get it done.
“It hurt, it hurt a lot,’’ said Felix Hernandez, who saw another fine outing wasted. “This series was a tough one.’’
Henry Blanco had tagged Ryan Dempster for his second grand slam of the season in the fifth inning to help give Hernandez an uncharacteristically large lead.
Hernandez threw seven innings of one-run ball, struck out eight and left with a 7-1 lead. That seemed safe enough that few batted an eyelash when Shane Victorino took Charlie Furbush deep for a solo homer in the eighth.
But the eyelashes were fluttering amongst the crowd of 35,886 at Fenway Park when closer Tom Wilhelmsen couldn’t get anybody out. Interim Mariners manager Robby Thompson lifted Wilhelmsen after a walk, a single, a run-scoring double by Brock Holt and an ensuing walk loaded the bases.
That set off an almost surreal chain of events for the Mariners that would finally end five runs later when Daniel Nava drove a ball over center fielder Michael Saunders for a walk-off single.
In between was a whole lot of learning experience for substitute manager Thompson, who had wanted to bring in right-hander Yoervis Medina right after Wilhelmsen. But plate umpire David Rackley ruled that Thompson had signaled for a left-hander to come in by motioning towards the bullpen with his left arm.
Thompson tried to argue, but says crew chief Gary Darling backed his umpire up. They forced Thompson to send Medina – who was already jogging to the mound – back to the bullpen and have lefty Oliver Perez face switch-hitter Victorino.
That turned out poorly as Victorino drilled a single to right to bring in two more runs and make it a 7-5 game. Perez was still out there with right-handed hitter Dustin Pedroia due up next.
Pedroia grounded a single through the right side that made it 7-6 and put the winning run on.
Perez managed to strike out David Ortiz and the Mariners immediately brought in Medina to face Jonny Gomes. With the count 2-2, Medina fired a pitch on the outside corner that was taken for what appeared to be a third strike.
“I thought it was a strike,’’ Medina said. “But the umpire said ‘No, no, no.’ ’’
Umpire Rackley ruled it outside to take the count full. The next pitch was lined up the middle for a game-tying single.
Medina walked Stephen Drew to load the bases and move the winning run to third. It seemed academic by the time Nava drilled his first walk-off hit moments later.
Thompson said he planned to view video of his arm tap prior to the pitching change and would take responsibility if he blew it. He said he normally taps his right or left arm to signal whether he wants a right-hander or left-hander.
But on this occasion, he says he pointed first towards the bullpen to indicate he wanted to make a change, then was about to tap his right arm when he saw the umpire already signaling to bring a left-hander in.
“If there’s anything there for me, it’s a lesson learned that if you make any motion with either hand, that’s it,” Thompson said. “I didn’t realize that.’’
Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters he wouldn’t have argued had the umpires allowed Thompson to bring in Medina. Perez insisted he was ready, despite being surprised to get the call after Medina had already headed in. But the outs just weren’t there when needed.
“Today, Felix did everything he could and we didn’t get it done,’’ Perez said. “He had done a good job, and we just couldn’t get three outs.’’