ST. PETERSBURG -- They were down, they were up, and then the dust settled and they were left scratching their heads.
And that was all just in the ninth inning during the Mariners’ 7-6 loss to the Rays in Wednesday’s series finale at Tropicana Field.
The Mariners entered the deciding frame trailing, 5-3, having already fought back from an early deficit before watching Tampa Bay retake the lead. Daniel Vogelbach's 28th home run of the season, a solo shot, quickly lit a fire under the Mariners’ bench that peaked when Mallex Smith stroked a two-run triple into the right-field corner to give Seattle a one-run lead.
The momentum was on the visitors’ side, but not for long. Tampa Bay answered in the bottom half of the frame with a Kevin Kiermaier game-tying home run off Matt Magill. A single, a double and an intentional walk to Ji-Man Choi loaded the bases to bring up Tommy Pham. Magill uncorked a wild pitch four pitches into the battle, allowing Willy Adames to score the winning run.
“Everyone has ups and downs in this game, and I'm not happy it happened, because I cost my team a win,” Magill said. “It's part of the game, but it's not easy. I’ll take it, learn and move on. [My] low breaking ball has gotten some ground balls recently. That one just got too low, and it got away.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais wasn’t concerned about the long-term effects of the result on Magill, who entered the ninth with a six-inning scoreless streak.
“It does happen once in a while,” Servais added. “You pitch in the ninth inning, you’re going to give up a homer or a big run there. Hopefully, he’ll get back on it and keep throwing like he has been.”
Seattle still earned a series win against Tampa Bay to wrap its nine-game road swing with a trio of series victories and a 6-3 record, no short order for a team decimated by injuries.
The Mariners knew runs would be at a premium with Rays righty Charlie Morton on the hill. The All-Star entered play Wednesday with an American League-best 2.77 ERA and 194 strikeouts, and he was determined to improve on both totals.
It took a while for the Mariners to find the chink in his armor, with Morton holding the visitors hitless until J.P. Crawford -- who finished a homer shy of the cycle -- tripled to open the fourth inning. Morton stumbled hard from there, hitting Austin Nola with a pitch and then allowing a run-scoring fielder’s choice to Kyle Seager.
“You have games like that where you go out there and you know there are no easy innings and no easy outs,” Morton said. “For the most part, it felt like every inning was a little bit of a struggle.”
An Omar Narváez single and a Vogelbach walk followed, putting Morton in the uncharacteristic position of having to wiggle from a bases-loaded jam. Before he could settle on a plan of attack, Tim Lopes launched one of his own, plating two on a hard-hit single to right field to give the Mariners a 3-2 edge and a lot of momentum.
While that was all Seattle would get off Morton, the Mariners succeeded in driving up his pitch count and pushing him from action after five innings and 99 pitches. It became crucial as Seattle began working through Tampa Bay’s bullpen in search of another angle.
They were looking in the right spot, but the Rays immediately retook the lead in the bottom of the fourth and were able to answer the Mariners’ ninth-inning rally with one of their own.
“We almost pulled off a sweep here -- we were really close,” Servais said. “Heck of a comeback late in the ballgame against a really good bullpen. I thought we did a nice job offensively all series, and we didn’t quit. Hung in there.
“I thought we had enough, just not quite enough to get us over the hump there at the end.”
The loss snapped Seattle’s win streak at four games.