SEATTLE -- It probably produced a shake of the head, a disbelieving laugh and then maybe a glance away for a second to make sure your eyes were working right, because after all, it had been 14 innings. But another look confirmed this was no illusion. Yep, that was backup catcher Jamie Burke strolling out to the mound, picking up the ball and beginning to toss warmup pitches to fellow catcher Jeff Clement as the game entered the top of the 15th inning. In the Mariners' 2-1 loss to the Tigers on Sunday in front of 29,083 at Safeco Field, it wasn't necessarily the outcome, but the bizarre, attention-grabbing nature of the final inning.
After 14 innings full of offensive impotency and calls to the bullpen, Burke entered the game with the score tied and the Seattle pitching staff completely maxed out. While he would even impress at times on the mound, a leadoff double to Miguel Cabrera, a somewhat comical wild pitch and a sacrifice fly would give the Tigers the run that earned them a win and a split in the four-game series. "Something in my mind said Burke had pitched," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "I wasn't sure and I asked him. He said he has, and I just didn't want him to hurt his arm, and he assured me that that wasn't a problem." It was Burke's first Major League pitching appearance, although he has thrown innings in the Minor Leagues before, most recently in 2002. It was the first time a Mariners position player pitched since John Mabry in 2000. The Burke outing definitely bordered somewhere on the absurd, but then again, this was a game in which the crowd sang "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" during the 14th inning stretch. The path to that pivotal 15th inning was relatively uneventful, except for the expressway between the mound and the bullpens in left field that was harboring steady traffic all afternoon. The Mariners scored their lone tally in the third on a double off the left-field wall by Yuniesky Betancourt with Willie Bloomquist on first base. Though Betancourt would be caught in a rundown between second and third after the throw home, Bloomquist was able to slide in safely. Detroit tied it in the fifth inning with a leadoff homer from Ryan Raburn. Outside of that, it was a story of missed opportunities and effective pitching. The Mariners got through the initial nine frames with lefty reliever Ryan-Rowland Smith throwing five in a fill-in start, and Mark Lowe, Roy Corcoran and Miguel Batista giving up just one hit to send the game into extra innings. The fact that they had to use so many pitchers in regulation would be important later on, as Detroit starter Nate Robertson threw nine innings on just 100 pitches. So while the Tigers had their full bullpen for the extra six frames, the Mariners were already well on their way to wearing out their staff. It didn't help that Brandon Morrow (four appearances in five days) and Arthur Rhodes (slept funny on his arm) weren't available, and when Cesar Jimenez reached his limit after four innings of hitless relief, Riggleman had to get a little creative. "I had a couple guys come to me and say, 'Hey, skip, I can pitch,'" Riggleman said. "A couple position players -- Bloomquist, [third baseman Adrian] Beltre. But [R.A.] Dickey threw 100-and-plus pitches yesterday and he said, 'Let me see if I can get loose.' "It was just a real team effort. For us to be where we are in the standings and for those guys to be risking injury to go out there and extend themselves ... to offer to do that, that makes a real statement about how they feel about their teammates." For the record, Burke didn't look awful on the mound, as he moved his mid-80s fastball around, mixing the occasional offspeed pitch and showing good control. "I was pacing myself," said Burke, who shook off Clement's signs at times. "[I] just tried to stay like I would when I'm playing catch, nice and smooth." But Cabrera ripped a double to deep center to put a runner on second with no outs, and Michael Holliman pinch-ran. Then Burke threw a slider that, well, didn't really slide all that much. In fact, it slid right through the overhanging netting behind home plate after flying past the head of Marcus Thames and well out of the reach of Clement -- putting Holliman on third. "That was a slider," he said to a chorus of laughter. "The ball was slippery. I almost didn't want to throw it, but the one I threw before it to Thames I felt pretty good about throwing it, because I threw good one, and I thought I could come back with it. But, obviously, I didn't come back with it." When Thames lifted a deep sacrifice fly to left, Holliman tagged up from third for what would prove to be the winning run. Burke then retired Ivan Rodriguez and Edgar Renteria in order, even getting Rodriguez to swing and miss once. "I thought he could have had a couple more strike calls [from the umpire] on top of that," Clement said. "That was pretty fun to be a part of." Having Burke on the mound even dictated strategy in the bottom of the 15th, as the Mariners elected not to bunt with a runner on first and no outs. The decision led to a double-play grounder off the bat of Betancourt to kill the inning. "Normal baseball we might've bunted there," Riggleman said. "But we didn't want to play a tie game there at that point." And while Burke's performance had the crowd buzzing and brought plenty of laughs -- he even got a fist bump after the game in the clubhouse from pitcher Felix Hernandez -- it also contributed to a loss. "We can have fun with it," Burke said. "Still, I'm going to take it as I lost, but that's just the competitiveness I have. ... I don't want to lose. But it is kind of a funny thing also."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.