SEATTLE — If there was bitterness at the time, he hid it. If there was regret, he never displayed it. If there was ill will toward the team that traded him, he never mentioned it.
Then again, when it comes to Mike Leake, he’s not going to give you much in the way of emotion. Amid the mess of hair draping off his head and the unruly scruff covering his jaw, making him look like a smaller version of The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” is a poker face that doesn’t show you much more than disinterest or bemusement depending on the day.
And given his time in the big leagues and his understanding of protocol, he certainly wasn’t going to let the disappointment of the bullpen blowing his gem of an outing be known to anyone other than himself. Perhaps that’s why he was gone as the fireworks boomed above the stadium postgame. Leake had exited before talking to the media, presumably to avoid the after-fireworks traffic or perhaps not explode out of his own frustration in a season that grows longer with each day.
For the better part of Wednesday evening, Leake carved up the team that sent him to Seattle. But he could only watch as his team’s two best relievers imploded in the ninth inning, coughing up five runs before recording three outs and turning a two-run lead into a 5-2 kidney punch of a loss to the Cardinals.
After replacing Leake and recording the final out of the eighth inning, right-hander Austin Adams started the ninth and allowed three of the four hitters he faced to reach base on two singles and a walk. With the bases loaded and one out, “closer” Roenis Elias entered and promptly gave up an RBI single to Dexter Fowler and a sacrifice fly to Yadier Molina that tied the game.
Elias turfed the Mariners’ victory hopes when he served up a towering three-run homer to pinch-hitter Tommy Edman.
“Trying to get the last three outs were a struggle,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
Adams and Elias had been outstanding of late. But on this night, they couldn’t finish hitters off and couldn’t execute when needed.
“I think we were ahead of seven of eight hitters with either 0-2 or 1-2 counts, and we couldn’t put them away,” Servais said.
Adams had what appeared to be a missed third-strike call on a 1-2 pitch to Tyler O’Neill. Plate umpire Jeremie Rehak, a Class AAA call-up, called the pivotal pitch a ball. But looking at Statcast data, it seemed to be a strike.
“I just couldn’t make that one pitch,” he said. “I threw some close ones. But I couldn’t execute that 1-2 pitch. I just couldn’t get that on pivotal pitch.”
And that missed strike?
“It would’ve been nice to have two outs with guys on first and second instead of bases loaded with one out,” Adams said. “I thought it was close. But those guys are humans too. If the thought it was a ball, it’s a ball. I still need to execute pitches. That’s what it comes down to.”
Leake pitched an efficient 7 2/3 shutout innings, allowing five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in what should have been a victory and a series win. Instead, he remains 7-7 on the season and is waiting to hear if he’s been traded.
“It wasn’t a lot of surprises, but a lot of execution for Mike tonight on their side,” Cardinals manager Mike Schildt said. “I thought everything was pretty crisp. The sinker was late. The cutter was really sharp and effective. His secondary pitches were for strikes. Everything was pretty much coming out of the same spot, so I thought he threw the ball really well. Early on, we couldn’t get the ball out of the infield, then we started taking better at-bats, started getting some better pitches, balls up, and hit some balls at people. I know no one wants to hear it, but we took better at-bats and felt better about it, but to his credit he made pitches to get through the eighth.”
It was clear when the Mariners acquired Leake late in the 2017 season that the situation in St. Louis had gone sideways to the point where a move was needed. After signing him to a five-year, $55 million contract before the 2016 season, Leake provided results that didn’t measure up to expectations. He posted a 9-12 record and 4.69 ERA in his first season and was 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA at the time of the trade.
With the Cardinals holding a passel of power pitching prospects in the minor leagues, many ready for the big leagues, they asked Leake to waive his full no-trade clause to send him and $17 million to the Mariners, who were desperate for a pitcher to eat some innings not just in the 2017 season but in the years that followed. Seattle gave up minor league infielder Rayder Ascanio to get him.
Leake has done about as expected with the Mariners, taking the ball every fifth day with slight above-replacement level results. He was stellar in his starts immediately after the trade, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.53 ERA in five starts to close out the season. Last year in 31 starts, he was 10-10 with a 4.36 ERA.
But with the Mariners in the process of rebuilding, Leake finds himself in a situation where he could be moved again. The Mariners already tried to send him to the Padres in the offseason and had worked out a potential trade to Arizona a month ago. They’ll continue to look for opportunities to trade him until the July 31 deadline. Leake still has the no-trade clause, but he has said he’d be willing to waive it again for the right team and situation.
A few more outings like Wednesday could expedite that process. He was outstanding, showing pinpoint command while changing speeds and using his array of pitches.
Leake gave up a bunt single to Jairo Munoz to start the game. From there, he got Jose Martinez to fly out and Paul DeJong to ground into an inning-ending double play. It was the start of a run of 11 consecutive batters retired.
Paul Goldschmidt broke that string with a leadoff double to start the fifth. But Leake was unfazed, retiring the next three hitters. He gave up hits in the sixth and seventh, but neither reached second base. Leake never allowed multiple hits in an inning.
He started the eighth inning and struck out Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong. But after Harrison Bader singled to left and with Leake at 96 pitches, Servais called on right-hander Adams to finish the inning. Adams got Munoz to line out softly to first base.
Meanwhile, the Mariners provided minimal run support for their starter.
Dylan Moore belted a solo homer off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright in the fifth inning for a 1-0 lead. Domingo Santana led off the sixth inning with a single and scored on a wild pitcher from reliever Tyler Webb to cap the Mariners’ offense for the night.