SEATTLE--If there is such a thing as momentum in baseball, the Seattle Mariners had plenty of it entering this homestand.
They won six of nine games on their most recent road trip and returned to Safeco Field in control of a playoff spot and showing the confidence of a team playing winning baseball.
But the Mariners have yet to carry that over at home this week, and they stumbled again Saturday, losing 3-1 to Washington in front of 32,984 spectators. The Mariners have lost four of their past five games, all at home, and are 11/2 games back of the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers (tied for the AL Central lead) for the final wild-card playoff spot.
"I think we ultimately wanted to have a better homestand than what we're having right now," said left fielder Dustin Ackley, who hit a home run but also contributed to a costly error. "But it's just one of those things where we have to flush it and move on. We know we're better than what we've been doing with our pitching and our hitting. We've shown what we can do in the past, and we know that we're going to have to do that again.
"Sometimes games like these are hard to flush just because they're late in the season and every game means so much," he continued. "But for me, we play this game every day and we have to learn to flush the bad ones and the good ones, no matter how extreme they are."
When things have gone poorly for the Mariners this season, the offense has largely been responsible, and that was again the case Saturday. As interim manager Trent Jewett said, "We pitched good enough to win."
Facing hard-throwing Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the Mariners flirted with scoring here and there--two runners on base in the third inning and two more in the fifth--but Strasburg maintained the edge.
In the third inning, with two runners on and two outs, he struck out Robinson Cano to end the threat. In the fifth, with two on and two out, he struck out Ackley. Strasburg had eight strikeouts in 72/3 innings, and he set the Nationals' season record for strikeouts with 210. Gio Gonzalez previously set the record with 207 strikeouts in 2012.
Ackley's solo homer with two outs in the eighth inning ended Strasburg's night and prevented the Mariners from getting shut out for the second time in five games.
"He was tough on us tonight," said Jewett, who noted the number of called third strikes the Mariners had. "I think we contributed to that some, but he was good."
That meant Mariners starter Roenis Elias didn't have much margin for error. He was good, but not quite good enough.
And he didn't get much help at the start. Ackley and Austin Jackson combined for a clunky defensive miscue on the first batter of the game. Denard Span lofted a high fly ball to left-center field. Jackson ran over from center and Ackley floated over from left. Both were calling for the ball. Instead, neither of them caught it and Span reached second on the error.
"I did hear him at the last second," Ackley said, "but I think I was almost all in to the point I was going for it, too. But I still think when your center fielder is calling it you have to move out of the way, no matter if it's the last second or 30 feet away."
Jayson Werth quickly compounded the problem by crushing a two-run homer.
Elias gave up a single to Jose Lobaton in the fifth inning and a run-scoring double to Anthony Rendon. That gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead. He worked around base runners for most of the game, but he settled down after leaving the pitch up on Werth's homer.
Elias went six innings and gave up three runs, two of which were earned.
"That's the best he's been in a while, especially in the latter stages of his outing," Jewett said. "Everything was working for him."
One of the Mariners' better chances came in the ninth inning, trailing 3-1. Kyle Seager singled with one out and pinch-hitter Endy Chavez added another single with two outs. But James Jones grounded out to end the game.
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