Cliff Lee was poised to become the first pitcher in two years to have four straight complete games.
He never got the chance.
With the Mariners holding a commanding 8-1 lead on a 90-degree Sunday afternoon, Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu decided to end Lee’s streak after the eighth inning.
“He gave us eight tough innings on a hot day, and that was enough,” Wakamatsu said. “If the score was different, or it was a little cooler, he would have completed that game.”
Lee threw 111 pitches, only four short of his season high, but said he would have happily taken the chance at becoming the first pitcher with four straight complete games since Roy Halladay in April 2008.
“If Wak had asked me what I wanted to do, I would have said I wanted to go back out there,” he said. “But he didn’t ask. He just told me I was done. That’s how it works – he makes that call.”
Lee, who was named to the American League All-Star Game earlier Sunday, allowed one run on nine hits and a walk.
“I don’t know what you can say about Cliff,” Wakamatsu said. “He just goes out there and keeps doing this, start after start.”
Lee (8-3) matched a career high with 11 strikeouts in improving to 7-1 in his last nine starts. Two of the hits were grounders that bounced off his legs.
“I got one off the right foot and one off the left foot,” he said. “I was fine on both of them – they caught my cleats more than anything else.”
Russell Branyan and Casey Kotchman each hit three-run homers for Seattle.
“It’s a great feeling to get that kind of offense,” Lee said. “It makes my job a lot easier.”
Kotchman’s fifth-inning homer, which made it 7-1, came after a pitch that Jeremy Bonderman clearly thought should have been a called strike. Bonderman was ejected by home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor for arguing while leaving the mound at the end of the inning. Catcher Gerald Laird was thrown out while Lee was warming up to start the fifth.
“I was definitely not getting the same strike zone as (Lee) did, but I obviously didn’t throw the ball well, so I’m not going to make excuses,” Bonderman said. “It gets in your head, but I’m not going to sit in here and say it was his fault I got beat, because it wasn’t.”
Bucknor had an embarrassing moment in the seventh when he made a dramatic called-third-strike call on Johnny Damon before realizing it was only strike two.
Bonderman (4-6) allowed seven runs in five innings, and fell to 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in three starts against Seattle this season.
“We just pitched bad today, and you can’t pitch bad against Cliff Lee and win,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “We had 10 hits, but didn’t get the killer hits. A lot of hits, no runs, didn’t pitch well, that’s the end of the game.”
The Tigers manufactured a run in the first despite not hitting the ball hard. Austin Jackson beat out a slow grounder to third and took second on Magglio Ordonez’s one-out single that deflected off Lee. Miguel Cabrera then hit a grounder up the middle for an RBI single.
Seattle had runners on the corners with one out in the second, but Bonderman struck out Josh Wilson and Rob Johnson to end the inning.
Branyan hit his three-run homer in the next inning, and the Mariners took control in the fifth on Franklin Gutierrez’s two-out RBI single and Kotchman’s three-run homer.
“(Bonderman) made a bad pitch to Branyan, and then he felt like he got squeezed and he gave in,” Leyland said. “He didn’t pitch well. It is as simple as that.”
Jose Lopez finished the scoring with an RBI single in the eighth.
NOTES: Laird also argued with Bucknor after being called out on strikes to end the fourth. … LHP Daniel Schlereth, acquired in the three-team trade with Arizona and the Yankees that also included Austin Jackson, Edwin Jackson, Max Scherzer and Curtis Granderson, made his Tigers debut in the eighth inning. … Both teams had two players named to the American League All-Star game on Sunday. Lee will be joined by Ichiro Suzuki, while Cabrera and Tigers closer Jose Valverde will represent Detroit. … Bucknor picked an object off the ground just before ejecting Laird, but crew chief Dana Demuth said it hadn’t been thrown from the Tigers dugout or the crowd. “I’m not sure what it was – someone just dropped something,” Demuth said.