Maybe it was all the Trade Deadline commotion just before first pitch, or perhaps it was the second consecutive day game at home.
For whatever reason, the Mariners came out sluggish with their gloves Sunday afternoon, committing two errors in the game's first 10 minutes. The poor defense, another bad outing from starter Jason Vargas and a lack of offense -- Seattle managed just five hits off Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson -- led to an 8-1 rubber-game loss in front of 20,382 at Safeco Field.
It's been a hectic couple of days for the organization, capped off with a last-minute, three-team deal at the 1 p.m. PT non-waiver Trade Deadline that sent left-handed starter Erik Bedard to Boston in exchange for two promising young hitters. Starter Doug Fister and reliever David Pauley were traded to Detroit on Saturday for pitcher Charlie Furbush and outfielder Casper Wells.
"It felt like my first Major League hit," said Wells, who had Seattle's only RBI. "It was nice to get that out of the way."
The last 24 hours have been crazy for Wells and Furbush, players who came from a Tigers organization poised for a playoff run to a Mariners team -- albeit full of opportunity for playing time -- 15 games out of first place in the American League West.
"I'm expecting some good things from good ballplayers here," Wells said. "We have great pitchers and the coaching staff has been amazing since I've been here -- there's a lot of positivity. I'm looking forward to playing here for quite some time."
The clubhouse looks a bit different than it did just two days ago. Gone are the locker nameplates of three prominent and important players -- Bedard, Fister and Pauley -- and in are young guys like Wells, Furbush and reliever Dan Cortes, who was called up from Triple-A Tacoma on Friday.
The youth on this team has become even younger post-Deadline for the Mariners, who have played 11 rookies this season. But manager Eric Wedge said that's no reason for the team to lose its main focus.
"The focus has to always be that we're coming to the ballpark to win a ballgame, first and foremost," said Wedge, in his first year with the Mariners. "I don't give a darn how young we are -- that has to be the focus. We have to expect good things to happen and expect to win. That's the mindset that we have to have.
"Sometimes that's easier said than done when you're talking about young people or talking about struggles, whether it be with us a baseball club or different individuals, but that has to be the mindset. Maybe we're working toward that now, but it has to be a given, sooner than later."
Seattle's loss was its 23rd in the past 28 games. Vargas struggled again -- he has lost five straight games since his last win on July 1 -- going 5 1/3 innings while giving up nine hits and four earned runs, but some sloppy glovework in the infield put the Mariners in an early hole.
Vargas went on to give up four earned runs, as he fell to 6-9 on the year. In his last five losses, the 28-year-old sports a 6.84 ERA.
"It's been a rough stretch," said Vargas, who added that his changeup has been off. "I haven't really pitched good since coming back from the break. I'm not making those big pitches when I need to. I had some chances to get out of the innings, but they kept the ball in play and were able to keep the inning going. I just need to pitch better and keep the team in the ballgame, because right now I'm not doing that."
Hellickson, on the other hand, was very impressive. The rookie wasn't blowing his pitches by anyone, but he forced the Mariners into a flurry of popups and flyouts. He retired 11 straight batters to start the game before giving up a walk to Dustin Ackley.
Chone Figgins broke up the no-hit bid with a single up the middle to lead off the sixth inning. Franklin Gutierrez followed with another single, but Hellickson forced three straight popouts to escape the jam.
The Tampa Bay right-hander allowed two more hits and a run in the seventh, and was charged with one earned runs on five hits and a walk in seven-plus innings to improve to 10-7 on the year. His 10 wins leads American League rookies and ties the Mets' Dillon Gee for the Major League lead.
The righty held the Mariners to just one run, marking the 31st time Seattle has scored one run or fewer, including four times in the past eight games.