Braves can't solve Felix, drop seventh straight
Two-out error by La Stella opens door for Mariners in decisive fourth
SEATTLE -- Safeco Field is no place for a struggling offense to get right. Ace right-hander Felix Hernandez isn't the ideal candidate for a team to face when it's looking to break out of a funk.
The Braves discovered both realities on Tuesday night in a 4-2 loss to the Mariners, though allowing Seattle three unearned runs in four-run fourth inning was what ultimately sent Atlanta to its seventh defeat in a row on its eight-game road trip.
The score was tied at 1 with two outs in the fourth inning when Atlanta starting pitcher Alex Wood got Chris Taylor to hit a towering popup to shallow right field. Instead of ending the inning, the ball glanced off the mitt of second baseman Tommy La Stella. Two runs came around to score.
La Stella had no trouble tracking the fly ball.
"You got to make that play every time," he said. "It [stinks] when you let your team down in a big situation. Obviously, you never want that. Unfortunately you can't pick and choose when you make errors. It's part of the game, like anything else. You got to move on from it and come back better tomorrow."
Wood then allowed an RBI single to Austin Jackson that made it 4-1 before finally escaping the frame. That pretty much erased any momentum the Braves mustered in the second inning when Chris Johnson lined a two-out RBI single off Hernandez. That gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead.
But that's all a foundering Braves lineup -- it entered Tuesday hitting .169 with runners in scoring position over its last six games -- would get against King Felix. Hernandez gave up just four hits and one run over eight innings while striking out eight and walking one.
The Braves finished 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
"I was talking on the bench with some of the guys. It seemed like when he got that lead he smelled blood in the water," catcher Gerald Laird said of Hernandez. "The good ones know how to pitch with a lead and he just kept pounding the zone with strikes."
Hernandez's gem lowered his ERA to 1.97 and improved his record to 12-3.
"You give up three unearned runs against Felix and you're up against it," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
The Braves had one last chance.
La Stella led off the ninth inning with a double against Seattle closer Fernando Rodney, advanced to third when Freddie Freeman grounded out, and scored when Justin Upton bounced out to shortstop. Jason Heyward followed with a bloop single to bring the tying run to the plate in Evan Gattis. But the designated hitter struck out to end the game.
Wood, who fell to 7-9, did his part, allowing four runs (one earned) and five hits over six innings. He struck out five, walked a season-high four and hit Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager with a pitch in the fourth inning, which sparked Seattle's four-run rally.
"I think I gave five free passes, if you include the hit-by-pitch," Wood said after lowering his ERA as a starter to 2.96. "That's stuff that can't happen -- not at this level. Not against anybody."
It was the eighth time this season and third time in his past four starts Wood allowed one or no earned runs. He battled flulike symptoms the past few days.
"He was sick and almost didn't make this start," Gonzalez said. "Our trainers did a heck of a job getting him prepared for this start. I'm sure he didn't feel 100 percent, but he gave us a heck of an outing against one of the premier pitchers in the American League, if not in Major League Baseball."
When Logan Morrison drove in Seattle's first run with an RBI single in the fourth inning, shortstop Andrelton Simmons sprained his left ankle trying to cover third base. He was forced to leave the game and is considered day to day.
"He's probably going to be a little sore tomorrow," Gonzalez said. "Maybe the off-day on Thursday will give him plenty of time for this weekend."