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Rookie Thaiss’ 8th-inning HR sends Angels past Mariners, 6-3

UPDATED: Sun., July 14, 2019

Los Angeles Angels' Matt Thaiss drops his bat as he watches his three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 14, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Angels' Matt Thaiss drops his bat as he watches his three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 14, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The search for the Mariners’ first victory following the All-Star break will have to resume in a few days and in a different city.

With their best chance at a victory in perhaps their most competitive game in weeks, their top reliever — which isn’t necessarily a lofty distinction given the bullpen roster — entered to get one out with the score tied in the eighth inning.

Instead, left-hander Roenis Elias served up a line-drive three-run homer to left-handed hitting rookie Matt Thaiss, who came into the game batting .071 with no homers and one RBI.

After giving away three runs on the bases earlier in the game, there was no coming back in the ninth for the Mariners. Angels closer Hansel Robles secured the 6-3 victory, notching his 13th save and completing the sweep over Seattle.

The Mariners limp out of Anaheim having lost seven of their past eight games to fall to 39-58.

“Not a good series,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “It’s frustrating. They’re playing very well right now and we are not. We aren’t doing the little things to help us win ballgames.”

The Mariners have Monday off and then open a two-game series in Oakland against an A’s team that has won four in a row and is 8-2 in its past 10 games.

Eventually, Seattle will snap the losing streak, but the level of play in all aspects must get better.

“We got swept and we didn’t do a whole lot of things right, and they did,” Servais said. “Everything contributed in this series for us not getting a win here. It was pitching at times, defense at times and situational hitting. It was a little bit of everything.”

Right-hander Anthony Bass took the loss. He started the eighth inning and issued a one-out walk to Kole Calhoun and allowed a two-out single that put runners on the corners for Thaiss, who Servais knew from his days as the Angels’ director of scouting and player development.

With Mike Trout removed from the game because of tightness in his right calf, the Angels had only catcher Kevan Smith on the bench. So the light-hitting Thaiss, who snapped an 0-for-13 stretch earlier in the game, had to bat. Servais went to his interim closer and most effective reliever. After a first-pitch strike, Elias fell behind 2-1 and piped a 94 mph fastball Thaiss was ready to hammer.

“Elias has been our most consistent reliever all year long,” Servais said. “They have a young guy up and I’ve certainly seen Matt Thaiss a lot, but he’s now in the big leagues and he hits his first big-league home run. You aren’t thinking that’s going to happen there. But we didn’t locate the ball and got behind in the count again. Elias came in with a fastball and he was ready for it. Thaiss has a lot of talent, but I liked our chances in that spot and Elias just didn’t get it done.”

Starter Yusei Kikuchi and the Mariners’ beat-up bullpen couldn’t take advantage of three runs of support, which isn’t a lot but is better than the first two games of the series.

Of course, it could have been more run support if not for the Mariners running the bases with complete disregard for sense and purpose.

In a fourth inning when the Mariners had runners on second and third with one out, Austin Nola was thrown out at home on a ground ball to shortstop with a drawn-in infield. Moments later, Mallex Smith got caught off first base. Dylan Moore tried to score from third while Smith was hung up in the rundown, but instead was thrown out at home.

And then in the seventh of a 3-3 game, Smith tripled with one out to give Seattle a prime chance to take the lead. Instead he got caught off third on a comebacker to the pitcher and was thrown out at home after a brief rundown.

“It’s not ideal when you are up on a ballclub like that,” Servais said.

With inconsistent command of his secondary pitches from his first pitch of the game, Kikuchi struggled to get ahead and to put hitters away. He didn’t go full count to every batter, but it just felt that way. Perhaps the biggest sign of his issues were the 47 pitches it took to get through two innings and the four walks he issued in his four-plus innings.

“It starts with starting pitching,” Servais said. “The Angels are really patient and they don’t swing a lot early and they ate up a lot of Kikuchi’s pitches.”

Kikuchi recorded the first two outs of the game and then issued walks to Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton before getting the third out of the inning. He was effective enough to allow just two hits. With a 2-0 lead, Kikuchi allowed his first hit to start the second inning when Calhoun launched a curveball over the wall in right field to cut Seattle’s lead in half.

After the two pitch-filled innings, Kikuchi worked 1-2-3 frames in the third and fourth. He started the fifth and never recorded an out. He walked Dustin Garneau to start and then allowed a single to No. 9 hitter Thaiss. With the top of the Angels order cycling through for the third time, Servais went to right-hander Matt Carasiti to stop the problems. Instead, Carasiti made it worse by walking the first two batters he faced to force in a run. The Angels tied the score on Andrelton Simmons’ sacrifice fly. Both runs were charged to Kikuchi.

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