By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — A hunch pays off with a leadoff homer in the first inning. Felix Hernandez gets three runs of early support. And it still slipped away Saturday for the Mariners in a 6-3 loss to the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field.
Hernandez spit back the lead in a three-run fifth. The M’s attack flat-lined over the closing innings while their bullpen hiccuped three runs.
“We did a good job of getting on the board early,” said third baseman Kyle Seager, who had a homer in the second and scored after a leadoff single in the fourth.
“(Michael) Saunders set the table right out of the gate, which was really nice. Then we kind of had a couple of opportunities that we let slip through our fingers.”
The Mariners managed just two singles over the final five innings. Charlie Furbush (0-1) put the winning run aboard by hitting Prince Fielder to start the eighth inning.
Joe Beimel yielded two more runs in the ninth, including one on a two-out wild pitch that catcher Mike Zunino probably should have stopped.
So the winning streak ends at two.
After Furbush plunked Fielder in the hip, the Mariners summoned Yoervis Medina, who yielded a single to Adrian Beltre.
First and second. No outs.
Alex Rios’ grounder to short resulted in an force at second and left runners at first and third. Mitch Moreland’s sacrifice fly to deep left scored Fielder with the go-ahead run.
Leonys Martin then opened the ninth with a single against Beimel, who then retired the next two hitters before his run-scoring wild pitch.
The Rangers tacked on another run when Elvis Andrus doubled past third, and Fielder followed with an RBI single on a line drive to center.
The Texas bullpen, armed with the lead, went into shutdown mode. Neal Cotts atoned for Friday’s four-run meltdown by striking out the first two hitters in the eighth before Alexi Ogando got the third out.
Joakim Soria closed out a victory for Aaron Poreda (1-0) by pitching a scoreless ninth for his sixth save in six chances.
The Mariners built a 3-0 lead for Hernandez, in part, on homers by Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager. But the Rangers struck back with three runs in the fifth on four singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly.
“Definitely (frustrating),” Hernandez said. “For sure. It can’t happen. They gave me three runs, and I just blew it. That’s not good.”
Texas starter Colby Lewis pitched into sixth before exiting after a leadoff walk to Justin Smoak. In came Poreda, who retired the next three hitters — although the final out required a review confirmation.
Early on, everything broke the Mariners’ way.
Saunders batted leadoff because of what manager Lloyd McClendon admitted was a hunch — and then opened the first with a homer for a 1-0 lead.
Another leadoff homer, by Seager in the second inning, stretched the lead to 2-0. It was his third homer in a span of seven at-bats over three games.
Seager and Smoak then started the fourth with singles, which put runners at first and third. A four-pitch walk to Dustin Ackley loaded the bases.
Zunino’s sacrifice fly to right scored Seager and moved Smoak to third, but Lewis avoided further damage when Brad Miller flied out to short left and Saunders struck out.
“Minimum damage,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “That’s what (Lewis) did.”
The Mariners’ failure to capitalize further proved a turning point. Nothing went right after that.
“Very disappointing,” McClendon agreed. “I thought that was the deciding inning for us. We certainly had an opportunity to blow it open right there. We didn’t get it done.”
Hernandez yielded just one hit through four innings, but the Rangers opened the fifth by loading the bases on singles by Moreland, Donnie Murphy and Martin.
A four-pitch walk to Robinson Chirinos forced in a run and turned over the lineup. Hernandez got a grounder from Michael Choice, but it found a hole through the left side for an RBI single. And it was 3-2.
Andrus tied the game with a sacrifice fly before Hernandez steadied.
“I made mistakes in the middle of the plate,” Hernandez said, “and they put good swings on it. Three straight base-hits.
“And then, after that, I don’t even remember the last time I walked somebody on four straight pitches with the bases loaded. I don’t even know what happened there.”