SEATTLE -- The A's and Mariners, clearly having seen enough of each other this season, did their best to minimize their time together on the field on Saturday, completing five innings in less than an hour's time.
But the sixth, at least the bottom portion of it, proved far too long for the A's liking -- not to mention far too destructive -- as the Mariners expanded a one-run lead by three and never gave it back in handing Oakland a 4-0 loss.
For as much as A's starter Tommy Milone labored in that inning, a 28-pitch marathon, his teammates' struggles at the plate in every frame didn't help his cause.
As a team, Oakland entered the day batting just .205. A quiet five-hit performance against Mariners right-hander Hector Noesi, who just five days earlier was knocked out after three-plus innings of seven-run ball in Texas, brought that number back down to the Mendoza Line.
"I think it's a contagious thing, right now," manager Bob Melvin said. "All spring we were scoring early in the game, getting guys on early and had a good feeling. Right now, it's just the opposite. We're having trouble getting something going early on, and this was the first game we didn't get something going at all at some point in the game. But we need to put pressure on the pitcher early in the game and try to create some momentum."
"You want to get off to a good start," said Kurt Suzuki, who is batting .188. "It's tough, because if you don't [have success] in the first seven games or so, everyone's going to make a big deal of it. You want to stay with the process and keep trucking along. You have to focus on going out there and having quality at-bats."
But quality at-bats have been few and far between for Oakland, particularly with runners aboard. The A's, who left a total of six stranded while going 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, have now tallied fewer than 10 hits in each of their first nine games, the most sub-10-hit games to start a season since 1978 (10).
As a result, there's been little room for error by the pitching staff. Just ask Milone, who was coming off eight scoreless innings in his season debut and, from the get-go on Saturday, appeared primed for a similar showing by retiring 16 of the first 17 batters he faced.
The outlier, Jesus Montero, was the only one to reach base during that time -- and he touched them all, courtesy of a one-out solo shot to center field in the second.
Montero again produced heavy applause in the sixth, this time with a two-run double that highlighted Seattle's big inning. It all started with Brendan Ryan, who grounded a ball to center for a base hit. Chone Figgins' ensuing single put runners at second and third after he took second on Coco Crisp's throw back to the infield, and Milone issued free passes to two of the next three batters to walk in a run.
The second, to Justin Smoak, was nearly an inning-ending strikeout instead -- at least from Milone's view. With a full count on Smoak, the lefty threw a fastball he believed was a strike.
"I thought the last pitch was a strike. But, obviously, being the pitcher, I want it to be a strike," Milone said. "Who knows? It could have been a little bit off. But I'm biased, I want it to be a strike."
Melvin and Suzuki, however, admitted home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg's call was likely the right one.
"I don't think the 3-2 pitch was a strike," Melvin said.
Added Suzuki: "It was a close pitch, but it was one of those borderline pitches that you look back and it's probably a little outside."
Montero's double down the right-field line followed, and Josh Reddick's relay throw to Daric Barton was perfectly passed along to Suzuki at the plate in time to nail Smoak and end the fateful frame.
The A's, meanwhile, nearly got to Noesi with two outs in the eighth, when Cliff Pennington notched his second base hit of the night and Jemile Weeks moved him to third on a ground-rule double. But Crisp's popout to shortstop -- one of nine Oakland popouts on the night -- ended the A's threat.
"He was getting a lot of popups, which means his ball was getting on us a little quicker than we thought, and he pitched in," Melvin said of Noesi, who struck out six and walked one in the winning effort.
"He was just pounding the strike zone," Suzuki said. "He had good movement on his fastball and threw a few good changeups in there. He pitched well tonight, moved the ball around a lot."
For Noesi, the task proved rather easy, thanks to a familiar face behind the plate in Montero, his old Minor League buddy.
"We just got into it, like, 'This is the game, let's enjoy it,'" the Mariners pitcher said. "He talked to me about whatever we talk about, like, 'Let's play a game.'"
It was one that didn't go so well for Milone and Co.
"It's always a little harder when you're not scoring runs, because you're trying to keep the team in the ballgame and you feel like you can't give up any runs," Milone said. "But it happens. And as pitcher, you want to throw up zeroes -- and I didn't do that today."