League's rough ninth inning sinks Mariners

League's rough ninth inning sinks Mariners

League's rough ninth inning sinks Mariners
SEATTLE -- Mariners All-Star closer Brandon League suffered his second blown save in the past nine days Friday, giving up three runs in the top of the ninth to the Angels in a 6-4 loss that left a dent in Seattle's recent upswing.

The Mariners had won five of seven coming in but saw their momentum stalled with a second straight setback to the Angels to open the four-game series at Safeco Field. Seattle (21-27) has slipped into last place in the AL West by a game-and-a-half behind the Halos, who've won four straight.

The loss spoiled a four-RBI night for first baseman Justin Smoak, who went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run.

Instead, the 23,517 fans at Safeco Field were left with the sight of League coughing up a 4-3 lead with a trio of runs, much as he'd done in an 11th-inning meltdown at Cleveland on May 17. In his last four outings, League has allowed seven runs (six earned) and eight hits with five walks in 3 1/3 innings.

Manager Eric Wedge said League is "making it difficult on himself" with his lack of control in recent games, but stopped short of saying a change was in order.

"You can't just make a move without having somebody else take on that role," Wedge said. "Brandon League's our closer. We've got to get him going. We've got a lot of young kids down in that bullpen. Carl [Willis] and I will continue to talk about everything. The most important thing is obviously to win ballgames here. So we're not going to make a reactive decision five minutes after the ballgame."

A throwing error on League, who fired wide of third baseman Alex Liddi on a bunt by Erick Aybar with runners on first and second and no outs, allowed the tying run to score. Pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick then delivered a two-RBI single for the go-ahead runs.

Wedge said League made the right decision in throwing to third but just didn't execute the play.

"We had him dead to rights, he just needs to make a good throw," Wedge said.

"I thought it would have been a close play," League said, "but if I'd made a good throw we had a chance to get him at third. But it went into left field and it was like all hell broke loose. I don't know how else to explain it."

Compounding that problem was the fact League appears to be struggling with his confidence. He continually paced around the mound after each pitch during the rally, eventually giving up the winning two-run single to Kendrick on a first-pitch sinker.

"In that situation, you want to try to get a pitch to hit early," Kendrick said. "He happened to leave a ball out over the plate early in the count right there, and as a pinch-hitter, you're trying to be aggressive early. It happened to be out over the plate where I was looking, and I just put an aggressive swing on it."

League recorded his ninth save of the season Wednesday against the Rangers, but now has four blown saves. He had five blown saves all of 2011 while recording 37 saves in his first season as closer. The recent run of trouble clearly is playing on his confidence.

"We still had a tie ballgame," he said after his throwing error. "The game's not over. At that point, I'm trying to get a ground ball from Kendrick, but he just drove it right up the middle.

"The balls are up. I'm not getting ground balls, that's the bottom line. If they're taking the pitches, it's a strike. But they're jumping on the first fastball and they're up and it's unacceptable. When I'm hitting my fastballs, I'm getting ground balls. And I'm not getting ground balls whatsoever right now."

Prior to League's struggles, Blake Beavan appeared headed for the victory as he threw seven innings of three-run ball.

Albert Pujols spoiled Beavan's shutout bid with a powerful three-run blast to right-center field in the sixth inning, his second home run in two nights at Safeco Field and sixth of the season. Beavan was kicking himself afterward for leaving an 0-2 fastball where Pujols could hit it.

"That's not a very smart pitch to that guy with guys on base," Beavan said. "Two times before I got him with a slider. I think he was just hoping I'd throw a fastball right there and not a slider, so I kind of did him a favor. Even though it wasn't a strike, it was too close to his damage zone.

"If I make a better pitch right there, we still win the ballgame. You can't give up a home run there, up 0-2. It doesn't matter who's in the box, you've got to get it in the dirt or at least throw a ball. You can't put it near the zone."

Smoak also hit his sixth home run, a two-run shot in the fifth. He went 2-for-4 on the night and his four RBIs give him seven in his past five games and 19 on the year.

"I feel like I'm still getting in the groove of things. I'm feeling better," Smoak said. "I'm seeing the ball better and that's always a good thing. But it's just trying to take baby steps right now.

"Of course, you want to win the ball game. That's the goal every time, to do what it takes to win. We had it there till the end and we kind of gave it away."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.