Tough Friday: Mariners lose in painful fashion, Pauley suspended, Hultzen roughed up

Tough night on a couple fronts for the Mariners on Friday, starting with finding another way to drop a game at U.S. Cellular Field with a 9-8 loss that ended with right fielder Eric Thames having the ball knocked loose when he collided with center fielder Michael Saunders on a drive in the gap by Paul Konerko.

This after Seattle had rallied with six runs in the top of the ninth to take an 8-7 lead in a game they appeared dead to rights after Jason Vargas gave up three early home runs.

The Mariners took a lot of positives out of the comeback and even the last play, given the all-out effort by Thames and Saunders. But closer Tom Wilhelmsen was kicking himself for giving up the lead as the Mariners saw their record against the White Sox fall to 4-22 over the past three years and 1-6 this season.

They’ve lost 17 of their last 20 games at U.S. Cellular and this one hurt as much as any of them. Just ask Wilhelmsen.

What happened?

“They hit the pitches that I threw,” the big closer said through a grimace. “You can’t [bleeping] walk the go-ahead runner and I did that.”

The pitch Konerko hit?

“Right down the middle,” said Wilhelmsen. “That ball was driven pretty well. It didn’t look to me like either one had a shot, so I was really impressed with their effort. It was enough to get the guys in.”

And that’s how a game ended after whip-sawing back into Seattle’s favor just moments earlier with what could have been one of the most-dramatic comebacks of the season.

You can read my game story and watch a video of the game-ended collision here.

But that wasn’t the only sore point for the Mariners on Friday. Mariners reliever David Pauley, now pitching for Triple-A Tacoma, was suspended for 50 games without pay following a second violation for a drug of abuse, according to the commissioner’s office.

Pauley, who re-signed with the Mariners at midseason after being traded to the Tigers last year, had been pitching well for the Rainiers with a 3.14 ERA in 11 appearances. The suspension was not for steroids or performance enhancers, but for an unspecified recreational-type drug.

That spells the end of the season for Pauley, who had been a big part of the Mariners bullpen a year ago and might have been a candidate for a September call-up.

Then young starter Danny Hultzen went out and got roughed up for the Rainiers, lasting just two-thirds of an inning while giving up four runs on two hits and four walks. The 2011 first-round Draft pick is now 1-3 with a 5.14 ERA in nine starts since being promoted from Double-A Jackson and you have to wonder if he might get shut down soon as he appears to be running out of gas in his first year in pro ball.

On the plus side there, Franklin Gutierrez went 1-for-4 with a run in his sixth rehab game and appears on track to return fairly soon to the Mariners. Saunders was shaken up in his collision with Thames, but wasn’t believed to be injured.

If he is unable to play for a while, Gutierrez could be a candidate to return sooner than expected. Otherwise, I suspect he’ll stay in Tacoma until rosters can be expanded on Sept. 1. Casper Wells can play center as well, so the Mariners have some options if Saunders is out for a brief time.

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