SEATTLE — By traditional baseball statistics, the bullpen cost the Mariners another game this season. But with advent of the “opener” in baseball, what is and what isn’t a bullpen failure has become skewed.
For example: The Mariners’ 5-4 loss to the Cardinals on a pleasant Fourth of July afternoon at T-Mobile Park was technically a failure of the bullpen since the lead was lost after the starting pitcher exited the game.
But really, Wednesday’s starting pitcher was coming out of the bullpen to pitch after an actual member of the bullpen started the game. Confused yet? It gets worse.
The use of an opener by the Mariners, which has been maligned by many fans, didn’t work. Unlike in the past when the opener handed the starting pitcher a deficit, it was the starting pitcher who blew the reliever’s lead Thursday.
Simple: The loss fell on lefty Tommy Milone, who was given multiple leads to protect and failed to do so.
“That’s always frustrating,” he said. “Two innings there in the middle, we take the lead and I give it back.”
Since going to the opener, Milone has been solid when entering the game. He had posted a 1.99 ERA in four games as the Costco pitcher taking on the bulk of the innings.
“Tommy made a few mistakes today and left some balls over the plate,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s usually on the edges more. But they were on his changeup. He made some decent adjustments and did his job for the most part.”
The Cardinals had a good approach to Milone, looking to hit his best pitch — the changeup — and taking full advantage of ones left over the plate.
“Off and on, it seemed like they were sitting on it,” he said. “Overall, I felt like I threw some good pitches, but I just didn’t get it done.”
The Mariners dropped a series they should’ve won. Instead, they frittered away the final two games in disappointing fashion.
“How to finish off ballgames and execute late in games, whether it’s an at-bat or a play in the field or a pitch in a count and striking a guy out or get some weak contact, we’ve struggled to do that,” Servais said. “Some of it is inexperience. You have to go through it. We knew coming into the season that was going to be something we were going to grow from and learn from and our guys are learning. We’ve seen stretches when it shows up and we are productive. That’s a separator in this league.”
Matt Carasiti made his fourth “start” as an opener and showed that he might be the best candidate in the bullpen for the role. The right-hander shrugged off a one-out single by Jose Martinez to work a scoreless first inning, including a strikeout of Paul Goldschmidt.
“He’s really throwing the ball,” Servais said. “His confidence is growing. I thought he did a nice job today and really got after them. It’s good to see.”
In his four outings, all as an opener, Carasiti has worked three of four innings without allowing a run.
Milone replaced Carasiti in the second inning. He inherited a 1-0 lead after J.P. Crawford pasted a fastball from Cardinals starter Michael Wacha deep into the right-field seats for a first-inning solo homer.
Milone couldn’t keep that early lead or any of the other leads provided by the Mariners offense. He served up a solo homer to Matt Wieters on a changeup in the third inning that tied the game at 1-1.
“I was with Washington last year and he caught me a couple times,” Milone said. “Based on the at-bat up until then, he was taking fastballs and just sitting changeups right there. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, but it was over the plate.”
The Mariners answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning with RBI from Crawford and Daniel Vogelbach to take a 3-1 lead.
Again the lead disappeared quickly, this time in the form of a two-run homer off the bat of Dexter Fowler in the fourth inning.
The Mariners broke the 3-3 tie with a booming solo homer into their bullpen off the bat of Tim Beckham. This time Milone was able to keep the lead for two innings.
But in the seventh, with the help of Matt Festa, the lead and the game was lost.
A leadoff walk to Fowler and a one-out single to Harrison Bader ended Milone’s outing. Festa entered and immediately walked Wieters
With the bases loaded, Tommy Edman singled to right to score a pair of runs for a 5-4 lead. Both were charged to Milone.
“The walk sets up the two-run single,” Servais said. “We’ve been better at avoiding that lately. But it still rears its head at the wrong time and it ends up costing you.”
Milone’s final line for the loss: 5 1/3 innings, five runs, seven hits, a walk and four strikeouts.
Seattle had rally opportunities in the eighth and ninth, but set-up man Andrew Miller dispatched of a minor mess in the eighth with strikeouts of Vogelbach and Omar Narvaez. Closer Carlos Martinez allowed the tying run to reach in the ninth with one out, but he got pinch hitter Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon to ground out for the final two outs of the game.