ST. LOUIS -- The perils of a youth-dominated Seattle Mariners team were on display for all to see in the crucial moments of this record-setting extra-inning defeat.
Mariners catcher Mike Zunino failed to corral an Oliver Perez pitch in the 10th inning Friday night, allowing the decisive run to score in a 2-1 defeat against the St. Louis Cardinals. Prior to that, in the eighth, rookie second baseman Nick Franklin dropped a pop up and shortstop Brad Miller bounced a throw on the back-end of a double-play attempt as the Cardinals scored the tying run.
It all added up to a club-record 13th extra-inning defeat on a night the Mariners wasted seven scoreless innings from starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
"It's our youth, you saw it again tonight," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after his team's fifth consecutive defeat. "Multiple plays that had to be made. We've got a lot of young players up here. They're very inexperienced. They're up here to help us win but they're also up here to play them, watch them, evaluate them and let them know what they need to work on."
Right now, winning some games would be on the list. The Mariners have dropped 15 of their past 21 to fall a season-worst 17 games below .500.
It looked like they might notch an upset victory in this series opener against Cardinals staff ace Adam Wainwright. Iwakuma allowed just three hits over seven innings to silence a Busch Stadium crowd of 40,506 and Zunino's first home run since returning from a broken bone in his hand had Seattle up 1-0 in the eighth.
But then Franklin failed to catch a one-out pop-up by Brock Peterson, who made it to second on the two-base error. Later that inning, with runners at the corners and one out, Charlie Furbush got a textbook double-play grounder off the bat of Jon Jay.
Franklin fed it perfectly to Miller at second for one out. But then Miller bounced the ensuing throw in the dirt and Kendrys Morales could not scoop it out.
That brought the tying run home and the Mariners could practically smell defeat from there.
"When you're playing tight ballgames like a lot of our games have been and you're playing tight late, that's when it shows itself to you," Wedge said of his team's inexperience. "Whether it be defensively, or at home plate or on the mound. That's what we've seen a lot of."
Wedge said his team should never have been playing extras because the pop up to Franklin "has to be caught."
Franklin said he simply lost the ball once it was in the air.
"It just got up in the air and the ball started traveling on me," Franklin said. "And when it started traveling on me, I had to go get it and fell short of it."
Earlier in the game, right after Zunino's homer in the fifth off Wainwright had given the Mariners the lead, Franklin was on second when Abraham Almonte hit a bouncing ball up the middle. The ball looked headed into center field and Franklin took a very aggressive turn around third base.
But second baseman Matt Carpenter came diving out of nowhere at the last moment to knock the ball down. Franklin tried to reverse course and head back to third base, but slipped, was caught in a rundown and tagged out to end the inning.
Franklin said he was waved around third by coach Daren Brown, who then put the brakes on after he'd already started heading home.
The miscues continued, with pinch-runner Endy Chavez thrown out easily at second in the ninth by all-star catcher Yadier Molina when Michael Saunders failed to make contact on a hit-and-run call. Moments earlier, Saunders had failed to get a bunt down.
In fact, several Mariners failed at bunt attempts in this one, with Franklin popping out in the 10th after a leadoff single by Zunino.
There were two out and none on in the 11th when Peter Kozma singled off Chance Ruffin. Oliver Perez came on from there, walked two batters to load the bases, then saw Zunino fail to squeeze his first pitch to Matt Holliday.
"It was just one of those things where it was to my glove side and I just sort of lost track of it heading toward my glove," Zunino said. "Where I just had to sort of watch it and I caught it right off my thumb."
The mistakes cost Iwakuma the victory on a night he became just the fourth Japanese pitcher to surpass 200 innings in a season.
"I'm very happy to achieve this goal because this was one of my goals," Iwakuma said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "To stay healthy and to stay in the rotation for a long time."
Iwakuma, now at 203 2/3 innings for the year, said he's feeling stronger as the season winds down.
"At times, I do feel fatigued during the season but right now I feel better," he said.
That makes one of them. The Mariners as a group, right now, are crawling to the finish line.
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