A lengthy losing streak likely should have knocked the Seattle Mariners out of playoff contention, but they still remain in the chase only because of the New York Yankees’ struggles against the worst team in the majors.
Seattle (73-62) is on its longest losing streak since 11-game skid from Aug. 10-20, 2006. Despite their current slide, the Mariners are only two games behind New York (76-61) for the AL wild card.
“We’re still in good shape,” said Mariners manager John McLaren, whose team hasn’t won since Hernandez beat Texas on Aug. 24. “It’s amazing. We have the ability to streak the other way but we’ve hit a big bump in the road.”
The Mariners—who are wrapping up a grueling stretch of 20 games in 20 days — are coming off three close losses over the weekend to be swept by Toronto. New York, however, lost two of three to lowly Tampa Bay to gain only one game on Seattle entering this series.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating but you don’t take anybody lightly,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “Any team is capable of controlling the game with their pitching and that’s what they did in their two (wins) here.”
The Mariners’ losing streak victimized Hernandez (10-7, 4.08 ERA), who lost for the first time in seven starts in his last outing. He allowed six runs and a season-high 13 hits over seven innings in an 8-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday.
“We need big Felix to pick us up (Monday),” McLaren said.
Hernandez had been 4-0 with a 3.60 ERA in his previous six outings - all Seattle victories. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in two career starts against New York, and this will be his first at Yankee Stadium.
It’ll also be the first time Hernandez matches up with Clemens (6-5, 4.15), a 354-game winner who’s expected to start despite blisters on his right foot and possibly some elbow inflammation.
Clemens is 3-0 with a 3.91 ERA over his last four starts. He turned in a solid effort to beat Boston on Wednesday, allowing one run and two hits and overcoming a season-high five walks in a 4-3 victory.
“I was trying to be as stingy as possible,” the 45-year-old Clemens said. “It’s going to be a grind for me. I’m asking my body to be 25 right now.”
The seven-time AL Cy Young Award winner is 5-4 with a 3.21 ERA in 11 career regular-season starts against the Mariners while with the Yankees. Clemens also has enjoyed some big moments in his career against Seattle, striking out 20 Mariners in a 1986 start with Boston to set a major league record and tossing a one-hitter in an AL championship series game with New York in 2000.
He’s 23-14 with a 3.20 lifetime ERA against the Mariners.
Clemens has dominated Ichiro Suzuki, who has just two hits in 20 career at-bats. Suzuki went 0-for-4 in Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays, leaving him two hits shy of his seventh straight 200-hit season.
Raul Ibanez, meanwhile, went 2-for-4 to continue his hot hitting. Ibanez is hitting .388 with nine homers and 23 RBIs over his last 26 games.
New York lost a home series for just the second time since the All-Star break, and is 19-8 at Yankee Stadium in that span. The Yankees, who have won nine straight division titles, also dropped six games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.
Derek Jeter went hitless in five at-bats in Sunday’s 8-2 loss, and was 2-for-11 in the series. Jeter is 11-for-27 (.407) against Seattle this year.
The Mariners have won four of seven against the Yankees this year.