NEW YORK -- The Mariners were working on one of those "clean games" that manager John McLaren has been talking about. Good pitching, timely hitting and mistake-free defense had given them a three-run lead after seven innings in the series finale against the Yankees on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. But baseball is a nine-inning game -- except for this six-game road trip, where none of the games went to the bottom of the ninth.
This one didn't either, as the Yankees rallied for four runs in the eighth inning and handed the Mariners a 6-5 loss in front of 54,269, extending Seattle's losing streak to six games and leaving it to wonder what it's going to take to win a game. Left-hander Jarrod Washburn held the Yankees to two runs over six innings, and he departed with a three-run lead. "Washburn did a great job," McLaren said. "He really stepped up to the plate. We needed an outing like that from our starter. We brought him back [one day] early, and he was tired." So the first call to the bullpen went to right-hander Sean Green, who made his 27th appearance and retired three of the four batters he faced in the seventh inning. Six outs separated Seattle from its first win in a week. Afterward, McLaren replayed the eighth inning for the media. "Green was doing a real good job for us," McLaren said. "We talked about it, and decided that if he gets [Derek] Jeter out and he's throwing strikes, we would let him go through [Alex Rodriguez]. It changed in a hurry when Jeter got on." Jeter reached base on a full-count walk. "I got ahead of him early in the count [1-and-2] and couldn't finish him off," said Green, who has walked 16 batters in 26 2/3 innings this season. "You definitely don't want to walk the leadoff guy. I mean, it's one of those situations that when we have a three-run lead in the eighth inning, we're going to win the vast majority of the games." But this one goes into the "exception" basket. McLaren switched gears and brought in left-hander Arthur Rhodes to face left-handed-hitting Bobby Abreu, who doubled into right-center to score Jeter. Exit Rhodes, enter J.J. Putz. "We felt the game was in the eighth, and that's why we went to J.J.," McLaren said. "We just couldn't get them out." Putz walked Rodriguez on another full-count pitch and then struck out Jason Giambi for the first out of the eighth, followed by the biggest play, or misplay, of the inning. Pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui hit a slow roller between the mound and first base, and Putz, realizing second baseman Jose Lopez probably had no chance to make a play, dove for the ball. He caught it, tried to transfer the ball from his glove to his bare right hand and flip it to first baseman Richie Sexson. Putz couldn't pull it off. The lob from his knees went into foul territory, allowing one run to score and the tying run to advance to third base. "It was an instinct thing," the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Putz said. "You are taught from Day 1 to go after every ball you can get to. I was not sure [Lopez] could have gotten to it." But once Putz caught it, he couldn't do much with it. "I couldn't get a grip on it," he said. "I probably should just eaten it, held on to it." The tying run scored when Robinson Cano flied out to center field, deep enough for Matsui to tag up and challenge Ichiro Suzuki's throwing arm. The throw wasn't nearly strong enough to get the runner, forcing the Mariners to position the outfielders closer to the infield, so the go-ahead run could be thrown out at the plate if catcher Jose Molina singled. "In that situation, the thing we were trying to do was stop the ball in front of me, so I was shifted toward the front, closer to home plate," Ichiro explained. "As soon as he hit it, I thought it was going to be a tough ball to catch." The double that Molina hit landed safely in right-center field, driving in Matsui with the go-ahead run. "I didn't think it was hit that hard and thought the inning was over," Putz said. "It wasn't." Asked if he was playing too shallow, Ichiro said: "If I had spiritual powers and knew the ball was going to be landing there, I would have positioned myself better, but I don't have those spiritual powers." Right now, the Mariners could use spiritual powers, because goofy things keep happening. A strange double play ended a potentially big fourth inning against Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang. Seattle loaded the bases on walks to Adrian Beltre and Sexson -- sandwiched around an infield single by Kenji Johjima. After Wladimir Balentien forced Beltre at the plate, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt lined an RBI single into left field. Ichiro reached on an error by first baseman Shelley Duncan, and Lopez, deprived of hits in his first two at-bats by the left side of the Yankees' infield -- Rodriguez in the first inning and Jeter in the third -- went the other way, scorching a line drive right at Duncan. The ball caromed off Duncan's glove, but he recovered quickly, picked the ball up and threw it home for the force out on Balentien. Ichiro, thinking Duncan would make the catch, returned to first base and could not run fast enough to keep from being forced out at second base for the inning-ending 3-2-6 double play. "I don't know what you would call it," McLaren said, "but it was a weird double play." "I've never seen a 3-2-6 double play," Washburn said. "That was crazy." Ichiro hit his third home run of the season and singled; designated hitter Jose Vidro had two hits and drove in two runs; and Johjima and Betancourt each had two hits. But it wasn't enough. "All losses are tough right now," Putz said. "Wash threw a great game, and we got some big hits. But we couldn't finish it off. "It goes back to what Mac was talking about -- playing a clean game -- and we didn't do it. This is the most frustrating thing I have ever gone through. ... Not being able to play a complete game is not from a lack of effort, I know that. "The coaching staff is giving us all the information we need. We're just not getting it done right now."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.