SEATTLE — What Blake Snell did Sunday was pretty darn impressive, treating the hundreds of family and friends watching him pitch at home for the first time to quite a show, tying the American League record by striking out the first seven Mariners on his way to a 12K day over six dazzling innings.
"That was 'Wow!' stuff,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "He made some really good hitters look really uncomfortable.''
But what first baseman Brad Miller did was pretty much inexplicable, botching a routine throw on a bunt play during an eighth inning sequence that led to two Seattle runs and wasted Snell's work as the Rays lost their fourth straight, 2-1.
"Should've caught it,'' Miller said. "(Snell) was great. That's a tough one. Lot of good performances. But we didn't finish it off and didn't win it.''
Snell certainly did his part, openly excited going into the game for so many reasons. To pitch at Safeco Field for the first time as a big-leaguer (he did once in a high school playoff). To have parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, former teammates and buddies in the stands. And to be matched up against his childhood idol, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
"Stuff-wise, yeah, everything was working. I was throwing the ball where I wanted to the whole game,'' Snell said. "The adrenaline played a part, I think it made everything sharper. Just by how excited I was to pitch here and going against Felix, and seeing Felix be vintage Felix. … I was happy I had so much support here. … There were a lot of people. I'm just thankful they all came to support my dream.''
The cheering from Snell's fans, estimated at 300 by his father, Dave, started when the pitcher came out to warm up and was so loud it disrupted his focus during warmups in the bullpen.
But as Snell started to walk to the dugout, he got the feeling he was locked in, and, boy, did it show.
"He was dominant, about as dominant as anybody we've seen here the last couple years,'' Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "Certainly he had a lot of people in the stands. Sometimes that can hurt you and you try too hard. But he was juiced up and had great stuff.''
Mixing his upper-90s fastball with a fiendish trio of offspeed pitches, Snell got Dee Gordon (slider), Jean Segura (curve) and Mitch Haniger (slider) all swinging at strike three in the first inning. He did the same to Nelson Cruz (slider) Kyle Seager (fastball) and Ryon Healy (curve) in the second.
When Guillermo Heredia Guillermo looked at a curveball for the first out of the third, Snell tied the AL record of seven straight Ks to open a game, first set by the White Sox's Joe Cowley in 1986.
But Denard Span, a Rays teammate until a surprising trade nine days earlier, kept Snell from tying the major-league mark of eight, working through 10 pitches and grounding out.
Span would do worse to the Rays later.
Snell, 25, allowed his first hit to open the fourth and another the next frame as he sailed through six innings. But the downside of the dozen strikeouts was the swelling pitch count, and when he got to 100 on his last pitch of the sixth, having thrown 114, 101 and 97 his past three games, Cash decided that was enough. Snell said he got it.
"I know they're not going to push me, I agree with it,'' he said. "I want to go (back) out there obviously, but he's being thoughtful of my career.''
The Rays took a 1-0 lead into the eighth, with flame-throwing lefty Jose Alvarado on the mound.
It didn't start well, with a four-pitch walk to Ryon Healy. And it got worse when Heredia bunted, Alvarado fired it to first and Miller, somehow, missed it.
"I went and attacked the ball, thought I had a pretty good play on it,'' Alvarado said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. "I'm not sure exactly what happened with (Miller), but I threw it and tried to make the play as best as I can.''
With the ball clanging off Miller's glove, rather than have one Mariner on second with one out, the Rays had to deal with men on the corners and no outs.
"When they're giving you an out, you've got to be able to secure it and get an out,'' Cash said. "So it seemed like from there it snowballed.''
And Span was the culprit, lashing a lefty-on-lefty single to right to knock in the tying run and send Heredia to third, where he scored the winner on Dee Gordon's blooper over a drawn-in infield.
Cash didn't have much else to say about the play or the game, which capped a bad weekend on the field, as they got swept and dropped to 28-30, and off, with pitching coach Kyle Snyder hospitalized and top starter Chris Archer potentially headed to the disabled list. "You've got to win those games,'' he said, "and we didn't.''
But one thing he said seemed interesting. In discussing the condition of usual DH and sometimes first baseman C.J. Cron, who left the game with a bruised forearm after being hit by a pitch, Cash said, "I anticipate him playing on Tuesday.''
That's when the Rays play in Washington, under NL rules with no DH, and against right-hander Max Scherzer. In a game Miller, who has had his troubles in the field, would normally start.
Could that be catching?
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.