Bad break on passed ball costs Mariners

July 20th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The slider was intended to go low and away, but the high-spinning pitch from Andrés Muñoz sailed high, and by the time Tom Murphy realized that the ball wasn’t in his mitt, it was too late.

As the catcher Murphy reached into his glove routinely, assuming the ball awaited him there, it was actually dribbling toward the backstop, allowing Minnesota’s Max Kepler to easily jog across the plate standing.

And all of a sudden, the Mariners -- who again struggled with run production but had emphatically tied the game one inning prior -- were on their way to a 6-3 defeat at T-Mobile Park.

Seattle still had six outs to work with and had just one hit the rest of the way to finish with only five for the night. And in the ninth, reliever Devin Sweet gave up a two-run homer after issuing a walk when making his MLB debut, which pushed the deficit deeper to overcome.

But for the second straight game, a miscue in the field came to the forefront, one that was as costly as it was uncharacteristic, as it was the first passed ball against Murphy in 261 innings caught this year.

“You're looking for the ball down, ready to block it, it stayed up and got away from him,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “So, again, they got a couple of hits in the inning to create the traffic, to create an opportunity and they caught a break.”

Minnesota was able to do so, in large part, because it capitalized on most of its traffic throughout the night, having tallied 15 baserunners.

“They've done an outstanding job shrinking the zone,” Servais said. “They are not chasing. They are not chasing at all. And Luis [Castillo], like I said, he had great stuff tonight. And it's kind of just like they eliminated the bottom part of the strike zone.”

The Mariners had another chance to rally in the ninth, after J.P. Crawford reached on an error and Julio Rodríguez was hit by a 102.7 mph fastball from Jhoan Duran with no outs. But Jarred Kelenic struck out looking in a nine-pitch battle, Eugenio Suárez grounded into a 6-3 putout and Mike Ford K’d on three pitches to end the contest.

The game, however, wasn’t lost there.

Seattle also went hitless for 15 consecutive at-bats between Crawford leading off the first inning with a single and Murphy crushing a one-out homer in the sixth, putting Castillo on a tightrope as he registered his 11th quality start.

Castillo set a new Mariners milestone with 11 strikeouts, his most in 33 outings since joining the club ahead of last year’s Trade Deadline, including the postseason, but he was also bitten for two solo homers, marking the sixth time in his past eight starts in which he’s given up multiple long balls. Castillo also surrendered a two-out single to No. 9 hitter Ryan Jeffers in the second, which allowed the leadoff walk he issued that inning to come around and score.

“La Piedra” wound up pitching six innings and surrendering just the three earned runs, but the Mariners fell to 5-6 in his quality starts and 9-11 overall behind their ace.

On the season, the Mariners are tied -- coincidentally, with the Twins -- for the MLB lead with 48 quality starts, but they’ve converted only 33 of those into victories for a .688 win percentage. Last year, Seattle went 55-24 (.696) in 79 quality starts, which ranked third in MLB.

“I think the most important thing today was that we attacked,” Castillo said through interpreter Freddy Llanos.

Suárez was on his way to spelling Castillo when homering for the third straight day to tie the game at 3 with one out in the seventh, creating momentum against the Twins immediately after Kelenic’s single bounced Maeda from the game.

But that wound up being the final time that the Mariners would score, and now they’ll look to avoid losing their second straight series out of the All-Star break when this 10-game homestand continues Thursday.