The movement was small enough that it might not be noticeable in another situation. But this was the 10th inning of a tied game between two teams with playoff aspirations. When Dodgers reliever Dylan Floro stepped off the mound with the bases loaded, his team’s fate was sealed. It was a walk-off balk in a 5-4 loss to the Mariners on Saturday, one which left the Dodgers furious at the umpiring crew but unable to answer.
“That’s the worst part about tonight, that it was decided by an umpire,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “There was nothing egregious about that. We watched [the replay]. There was nothing egregious.”
The defeat stung for several reasons. At this point in the season, the Dodgers cannot afford many losses. It also sapped the confidence of a bullpen still reeling from the follies of series against Colorado and San Francisco.
The Mariners placed pressure on manager Dave Roberts and his bullpen in the 10th. The inning started with a single from All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger off Caleb Ferguson. Ferguson was pitching in his second inning of work, having navigated through a treacherous situation in the ninth. The final inning would not end well.
Ferguson generated soft contact against second baseman Robinson Cano, but the grounder was good enough for an infield hit. Roberts opted for Floro, a right-handed pitcher, against Seattle’s right-handed slugger Nelson Cruz. Floro compounded the trouble by walking Cruz to load the bases.
And then he balked.
The ruling from first-base umpire Andy Fletcher was that Floro moved his hands after entering the set position. Roberts indicated that the replay showed Floro’s knees buckled before stepping off.
“That’s the way Andy saw it,” Roberts said. “As the rule states, he got it right.”
The Dodgers were still upset that the call came from the first-base umpire, who was looking at Floro’s back, rather than his hands.
“I feel like it should have been more the third-base umpire’s call than the guy behind me,” Floro said. “But there’s nothing I can do about that.”
It was a brutal way to end the evening, and it kept the Dodgers stuck in third place in the National League West on a night when the Diamondbacks lost and the Rockies won. The Dodgers continued to stare upward at their rivals, with only 38 games left in the regular season.
The offense stressed Seattle starter Erasmo Ramirez but managed only one run during his five innings. The group did not come alive until the eighth inning, crushing a trio of solo home runs against Seattle’s bullpen to draw even.
The Dodgers smashed a pair of solo home runs off reliever Alex Colome to make the score respectable and place a scare in their hosts. Justin Turner led off with a homer. Cody Bellinger followed him with a titanic shot to right field.
Seattle handed the one-run lead to All-Star closer Edwin Diaz. He had saved 28 consecutive opportunities. Max Muncy ended that streak with one swing. Diaz fired a 98-mph fastball at the knees. Muncy smashed it out to right and let his bat roll out of his hand. He had done enough damage to the game.
The team was trailing because of a homer allowed by their own pitcher. Rich Hill recovered from an ugly start to complete six innings with eight strikeouts. The first five batters of the game still sank Hill’s night. He gave up four runs, three of them on a home run by Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. Hill also walked a season-high five batters.
The Dodgers did manufacture a run in the first inning. Joc Pederson took a leadoff walk against Ramirez. Pederson passed on a 3-2 cutter just outside the zone to take first base.
Second base was gifted to Pederson when Seager bobbled a grounder hit by Justin Turner. Seager recovered to make the play at first, but Pederson was in scoring position when Cody Bellinger came up. Bellinger spoiled a pair of two-strike pitches before lining an RBI single through the right side of the infield.
Seager atoned for the gaffe in the bottom of the inning. Before the season, he and his brother Corey had circled this series, hoping to face one another for the first time in their professional careers. The season-ending elbow surgery Corey Seager underwent in May snuffed out that dream. On Saturday, Kyle Seager set about ruining Hill’s evening too.
Hill started the dilemma for himself. He walked the first batter he faced and gave up an infield single to second baseman Cano. Cano stung a grounder to third base, which bounced off Turner’s glove. Nelson Cruz, Seattle’s designated hitter, roped a game-tying single into right field. Then Seager came to the plate.
When Hill gives up home runs, there is often a common culprit: fastballs which drift over the heart of the plate. A 0-1 fastball to Seager did just that. Seager launched a three-run homer into the right-field seats.
“The first thing, I just wasn’t able to get the ball down, execute my pitches,” Hill said. “That was the biggest thing. I wasn’t able to drive the ball downhill and keep my fingers on top of the ball. That was the difference in the game, in my opinion.”
The Dodgers missed a chance to trim the deficit in the next inning. The lineup loaded the bases with two outs on a single by Matt Kemp, another single by Yasiel Puig and Turner getting hit by Ramirez. Up came Manny Machado, who had homered twice on Friday.
Machado scalded a line drive into left field. The pitch sank as it approached the left-center gap. Maybin, the former Angel, dove to snag the ball just before it hit the grass to strand three runners.
The line-out ushered in a period of austerity for the Dodgers offense. Ramirez escaped after five innings with minimal damage done to him. The Dodgers did not manage another hit until Turner went deep in the eighth.
Thousands of Dodgers fans piled into Safeco Field for the weekend. One of them upset Puig in the bottom of the fifth. When Haniger hit a fly ball into foul territory in right, Puig sprinted over and leaped for it. In his way was a fan wearing Dodger blue and a glove. The two gloves collided. Puig ripped off his own mitt and slammed it into the dirt.
Hill ended up walking Haniger, but avoided further damage. He had found a groove after that wretched first inning. Hill permitted only one additional hit, a second-inning single, through the sixth.
Colome gave the Dodgers reason to hope. He started the eighth inning with six fastballs. Turner deposited the last one beyond the fence in left. Two batters later, Bellinger vaporized a 96-mph heater to trim Seattle’s lead to one. Muncy tied the game in the ninth.
The Dodgers came up empty in the 10th. The bottom of the inning unfolded like a nightmare.
“It’s been rough,” Floro said. “And that doesn’t help.”