By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Los Angeles Angels stayed in the thick of the American League wild card race, in large part because the Seattle Mariners wouldn’t let them fall out of it.
Earlier in the night Wednesday, Baltimore, Oakland and Tampa Bay won their games, meaning if the Angels lost they’d lose ground to the Orioles and Athletics ahead of them — and be caught from behind by the charging Rays.
The Mariners couldn’t hold a 3-2 seventh inning lead for Felix Hernandez, then lost in the ninth inning, 4-3, when a wild pitch set up Torii Hunter’s game-winning RBI single.
The Angels are alive.
The Mariners are 8-14 this month, have lost two in a row to the Angels and gone 5-10 against them in 2012.
Not even another Justin Smoak home run could save them.
Entering the bottom of the ninth inning tied, reliever Stephen Pryor gave up a two-strike hit to pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis. When a fastball in the dirt exploded past catcher Miguel Olivo, Izturis took second base.
The Angels bunted him to third base, and the Mariner countered by walking Most Valuable Player candidate Mike Trout intentionally to set up an inning-ending double play.
Veteran Hunter than punched a single into right center field, and the Angels had a walk off victory — while the Mariners got their 28th one-run loss of the year.
For Felix Hernandez, who was the American League Pitcher of the Month in August — when he was 4-0 with a 1.38 earned-run average — Mariners fans can think of September as the month that cost him the 2012 Cy Young Award.
After beating Minnesota, 1-0, on Aug. 27, Hernandez was 13-5 with superb credentials: A perfect game, four 1-0 victories and four no-decisions in which he pitched at least eight innings and allowed one run or less.
Then the calendar flipped.
Hernandez lost his first three September starts, following those with a pair of well-pitched no decisions — and now has one start left this year.
He’s 0-3 this month with a 5.70 ERA.
Hernandez fell behind Wednesday, 2-0, in the second inning when Angels manager Mike Scioscia followed a pair of singles by ordering a sacrifice bunt.
That moved two runners into scoring position, and Erick Aybar singled them both home, putting C.J. Wilson ahead.
Wilson opened the Mariners third inning by walking Casper Wells and the seldom-seen Chone Figgins. Brendan Ryan tried to bunt the runners along, failed, then singled into left field to get Wells home.
One out later, Franklin Gutierrez flied out to deep left field, chasing Figgins in to tie the game.
An inning later, the Mariners hottest September hitter — Smoak — hammered his club-leading 19th home run, and the Mariners led, 3-2.
It was Smoak’s fifth home run of the month, left him batting .373 in September and gave him four more home runs than his previous career best.
Like Zack Greinke a night earlier, however, Hernandez threw a lot of pitches early, like when catcher Chris Ianetta fouled off five consecutive 3-2 pitches and drew a 12-pitch walk in the second inning.
Hernandez never lost that 3-2 lead, but after six innings he’d thrown 103 pitches. Could he have gone on? Yes, but the 26-year-old right-hander has thrown 226-plus innings this season with one start remaining.
Weighing the risks and possible rewards, Wedge pulled his ace and went to his bullpen, asking it to get the final nine outs and preserve a victory.
The lead lasted two outs.
Right-hander Josh Kinney gave up an Ianetta one-out single, saw him take second base on a ground ball out and score on Torii Hunter’s two-out single.
The Angels had survived Hernandez.
Today, they’ll go for a three-game sweep against right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, while Seattle will try to snap a three-game losing streak.
Since Sept. 13, the Mariners have gone 3-7, though that stretch holds no shame. They’re playing only contenders — Texas (twice), Baltimore and Los Angeles, and their final six games of the year are against the Athletics and Angels.
There have been no easy targets this month, except perhaps the ones on the Mariners backs.
It’s cost them the chance to do damage to teams fighting for the right to play on into the postseason. And it’s cost their best pitcher any chance this year for a second career Cy Young Award.