BOSTON — The Mariners clubhouse was full of talk about a controversial check swing.
Lots of Mariners wore long faces wondering how Manny Ramirez would have fared had a strike been called instead of a ball during his critical eighth-inning at-bat. Instead, a team that had won 7 of 8 games learned the hard way what the Boston Red Sox slugger can do when he's given a hitter's count.
The hurt lingered after an 8-7 loss Thursday at Fenway Park for a Mariners team beginning a stretch of road games that could define this club. And Ramirez's second home run of the night, which snapped a tie score in that eighth, didn't hurt nearly as much as the opportunity squandered much earlier by Mariners starter Horacio Ramirez and company.
"It just wasn't going my way today," Ramirez summed up glumly.
That statement was one of the rare times all night an erratic Ramirez hit the mark. The way this game began, few in the crowd of 37,216 at Fenway Park could have figured Mariners reliever Chris Reitsma would be facing Boston slugger Ramirez with the game on the line in that eighth inning.
But strange things happen at this ballpark with the wind blowing out, even after an inning like Thursday's first, in which the Mariners scored five runs on only two hits off Red Sox rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was rolling nothing but snake-eyes that frame as he walked three batters, hit another, saw his shortstop drop a pair of balls and threw 35 pitches.
But Mariners' express slowed even before pitcher Ramirez gave back his 5-0 lead in the second inning. Seattle's free-swingers allowed Matsuzaka through the top of the second on only 10 more pitches, then only 10 more in the third to help him get through five frames and steady a Red Sox club staggered early.
Mariners @ N.Y. Yankees, 4:05 p.m., FSN/KOMO (1000 AM)
Pitchers: M's Cha Seung Baek (0-0, 4.22) vs. Kei Igawa (2-1, 6.08)
Ramirez had tossed away his advantage in a long second inning in which he walked leadoff hitter Kevin Youkilis. But the walk that truly hurt came three singles later, when Ramirez put .172-hitting Dustin Pedroia on base by throwing four straight balls.
Julio Lugo followed with a ground-rule double to right center over the heads of two outfielders. Toss in a bloop single by David Ortiz and the game was tied.
Two innings later, Ramirez tagged one over the fabled Green Monster in left for a two-run homer to put Boston up 7-5. Seattle starter Ramirez was done after that fourth inning, and though his teammates tied it in the fifth, it didn't seem to be the Mariners' night any more.
"It was a command issue," Ramirez said of his 95-pitch adventure. "Sometimes, my ball was running a little too much out of the zone. I tried to make the adjustment. I was just erratic tonight, just erratic."
Mariners manager Mike Hargrove didn't have tired closer J.J. Putz available and had to manage his bullpen sparingly with the score tied. He got two solid frames out of Julio Mateo and nearly two more from Reitsma before Ramirez checked his swing on a 2-1 pitch with two out and none on in the eighth.
The appeal to first base umpire Tom Hallion went nowhere. Instead of a 2-2 count — letting Reitsma perhaps put a sinker in the dirt for Ramirez to chase — it became a hitter-favored 3-1.
Ramirez took the next offering for a strike. But Reitsma's full-count pitch caught far too much plate and was driven into the right field bleachers for Ramirez's 475th career blast, helping make a winner out of Red Sox reliever Brendan Donnelly.
"We had Manny struck out," Hargrove said tersely afterwards. "Plain and simple."
Asked to elaborate further, a peeved Hargrove declined, uttered an expletive and ended his postgame interview.
Hargrove's mood reflected that of his somber players.
"I thought he went around," Reitsma said of the Ramirez checked-swing. "From my angle, on the mound I really couldn't tell. But yeah, it does really change the complexion of that at-bat for sure. It [would have been] a strike instead of a ball. You go about finishing the rest of the at-bat in a different way.
"It's no excuse," he added. "The bottom line is I made a bad pitch in a tight spot and he hit it out. There was really no excuse other than that."
And nobody in the clubhouse was making excuses as they packed for New York. They know they let this one get away. And early season or not, it hurts.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org