SEATTLE -- It was only the first inning, but the sound of TV sets shutting off all over New England could be heard 2,500 miles away. Why risk sleeping through the morning alarm, when Kason Gabbard couldn't throw a strike?
For Red Sox fans who hung in there, even after Gabbard walked home two runs and hit a batter to force in a third, the rest of the night had to be as disorienting as it was ultimately unrewarding. You dozed off at your own peril.
Gabbard lasted just 3 1/3 innings, the shortest outing for a Sox starter this season, but improbably left with the game still within reach. Indeed, the Sox came back to tie the score, not once but twice, against Felix Hernandez, who was the same pitcher in name only as the guy who threw a one-hit shutout in Fenway Park in April.
But each time the Sox squared the score, coming back from deficits of 4-1 and 6-4, the Sox bullpen gave it right back to the Mariners. Manny Delcarmen gave up two runs on a couple of hits, a hit batsman, and a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Javier Lopez was taken deep for a two-run home run by Richie Sexson in the sixth that gave Seattle an 8-6 lead, and with J.J. Putz striking out the side in the ninth, the Mariners held on for an 8-7 win before 35,045 in Safeco Field.
Why was the lefthanded Lopez allowed to face the righthanded Sexson, who blasted his 15th home run to the opposite field? Manager Terry Francona revealed after the game that former Mariner Joel Piñeiro had stepped on Eric Hinske during stretching the previous day and twisted his right ankle, making him unavailable.
"Javy can get anybody out," Francona said of Lopez, who had retired Sexson all three times he'd faced him previously. "But that was not the matchup we wanted. It was a tough night. We were fighting uphill all the way.
"We showed a lot of fight and spirit coming back against good pitching the way we did. Hernandez was hurt for a while, but his last outing was tremendous and he was throwing in the high 90s, a slider and breaking ball. I'm sure they felt pretty good with him out there with a lead."
The Sox had the makings of one more comeback in the eighth, when Coco Crisp walked to open the inning and Dustin Pedroia blooped a single to right. But lefty reliever George Sherrill struck out David Ortiz, and Putz gave up a sacrifice fly to Kevin Youkilis before retiring J.D. Drew on a tapper to first.
In the ninth, Putz struck out Mike Lowell on a fastball that Lowell took at the letters, got Jason Varitek on a neck-high fastball when the catcher could not check his swing, then needed only three pitches to fan pinch hitter Manny Ramirez, who was unable to catch up with another fastball. Putz has converted all 22 of his save opportunities this season.
It will be up to Daisuke Matsuzaka to salvage the finale of this three-city, nine-game trip and keep the Sox from losing again in a place that is far too lovely to have become a black hole for any team. But the Sox have now lost seven straight in Safeco, and Matsuzaka also has to cope with the sideshow of facing fellow Japanese icon Ichiro Suzuki again.
Outside the ballpark, they were selling "Showdown in Seattle" programs that featured photos of Matsuzaka and Ichiro, who went hitless in four at-bats against Matsuzaka in Fenway Park April 11.
The first four batters to face Hernandez reached safely in the first. Two batters into the game, the Sox had more hits than they had the last time they saw Hernandez, as Crisp lined a single to right and Pedroia followed with a hit to left. When Ortiz walked and Youkilis singled, the Sox had a run, but Drew struck out and Lowell grounded into a double play.
Gabbard, starting in place of the disabled Curt Schilling, struck out Ichiro to open the Mariner first but proceeded to go walk, single, walk, hit batter, walk, walk. Yuniesky Betancourt hit into a double play to end the inning, Pedroia making a great turn at second, or it could have been much worse.
That was only a temporary reprieve, as Willie Bloomquist led off the second with a home run and Ichiro and Jose Lopez followed with singles. The Sox bullpen stirred to life as pitching coach John Farrell visited his shaken pitcher, who lived to see another inning when Jose Vidro rolled into a double play and Sexson struck out.
But when Gabbard loaded the bases again with one out in fourth, Francona wasn't about to see whether the rookie had one more escape act left. He called for Delcarmen, who struck out Sexson and coaxed Kenji Johjima to hit into a force play.
The Sox had countered with another run in the third on Sexson's error and singles by Ortiz and Youkilis, and were deprived of more when second baseman Lopez made a terrific diving catch to take away a hit from Lowell. But they evened the score in the fifth on singles by Ortiz and Drew and a triple by Lowell that just missed being a home run. Varitek was called out on strikes to end the inning, but Hernandez, who had missed a month with a strained forearm, was proving eminently hittable.
Seattle manager Mike Hargrove was forced to concede that point in the sixth, when Hinske, starting in place of Ramírez, lined a home run off the facade of the first deck in right, and Alex Cora doubled over the head of right fielder Jose Guillen, who looked to be playing a solitaire version of Twister, turning the wrong way on the ball.
Crisp sacrificed Cora to third. Hernandez induced Pedroia to tap back to the mound, but Ortiz, facing lefthanded reliever Eric O'Flaherty, hit an opposite-field single off the end of his bat to tie the score.
After Sexson gave the lead back to Seattle, the Mariners threatened to expand the margin in the seventh, when Lopez walked two batters, one intentionally. But Mike Timlin, who gave up home runs on consecutive pitches the night before, entered and got two fly balls to end the threat