By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Anyone wondering why the Los Angeles Angels arrived at Safeco Field as a fourth-place team needed look no further than Albert Pujols and Dan Haren.
Two underachievers on a team full of them, Haren and Pujols found rejuvenation Thursday in the form of the Seattle Mariners.
Haren struck out a career-best 14 hitters and Pujols launched a two-run home run, his fifth.
By night’s end, the Seattle Mariners had done nothing offensively, been shut out for the sixth time this season and with their 3-0 loss had traded places with the Angels.
Los Angeles, third place in the American League West.
Seattle, fourth place.
Afterward, once Haren had dominated Mariners hitters, manager Eric Wedge took effort to praise the right-hander — while blaming his players for the loss.
“Haren threw a good game against us, but he was doing the same thing in the ninth inning he did in the first, and that’s a red flag,” Wedge said. “Somebody’s got to make an adjustment. Our right-handed hitters, our left-handed hitters — nobody did.
“We didn’t make any adjustments to what he was doing. I know we’re a young team, but you’ve got to do better than that.”
Held to four hits, the Mariners didn’t have to look hard to find Haren’s pattern, shortstop Brendan Ryan said.
“We’re zooming through that game and you can see guys up their lunging at pitches down and away,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to do something different, maybe move up in the batters box. You cannot just let him get you the same way.”
Haren got the Mariners all night with pitches down and away that were, at first, close strikes, then eventually inched further out of the zone.
“It looked like a fastball, then broke off the plate,” said Alex Liddi, who struck out four times. “Everything was away, away, away. It was just one of those days — he didn’t make a mistake.”
Jason Vargas did, and it cost him.
In the first inning, after a leadoff single to Mike Trout, Vargas faced Pujols with one out, the Pujols who was batting .213 in the Angels first 45 games of 2012.
“Jason left a changeup up,” Wedge said.
Pujols hammered it off the upper-deck façade in left field, and the Angels were ahead 2-0 before Seattle had come to bat. Nine innings later, the Mariners were beaten by that one swing.
“Albert could be 0-for-80 and still beat you with one swing,” said Ryan, once teammates with Pujols. “Whatever he wants to do on the field, he can do. It doesn’t matter what his batting average is.”
Pujols had three hits and pulled his average to .225.
The Mariners managed four hits and are now batting .230.
Vargas deserved a closer game, going seven innings without a walk, striking out six, but in the sixth inning Pujols got him again — and not just with the bat.
“I completely blew it when I let Albert steal second in the sixth inning,” Vargas aid. “He caught me sleeping. I didn’t pay attention to him, I know better than that.”
Pujols had singled, stole second and score the Angels final run on a Kendry Morales single.
“Albert hit a couple of good pitches and one bad one,” Vargas said. “You gave up runs early and Haren gets going? One run might have been enough tonight.”
Vargas may have been right.
Dustin Ackley opened the first inning with a single, but the Mariners didn’t get another hit until Michael Saunders infield single in the sixth inning.
Ichiro Suzuki doubled in the seventh inning and got to third base on a ground ball, ut Haren struck out Jesus Montero and Mike Carp.
With two outs in the eighth, Ryan singled.
That was the Seattle offense.
“He had a good cutter-slider working and a good split-fingered fastball,” Kyle Seager said. “He never let us get going. He’d get ahead and put us away.”
Ackley was the only Mariner in the lineup not to strike out at least one time, and five Seattle batters struck out at least twice.
“We will talk to our hitters, and they need to look at their own at-bats,” Wedge said. “It wasn’t the umpire. A lot of this tonight had to do with us.”
On a night they became one, the Mariners looked like a last-place team. Yes, it was only one game, but it came against an Angels team playing below expectations all season.
In a four-game series with Los Angeles, Seattle had the opportunity to put a bit of distance between them — perhaps make a May statement.
This wasn’t what they had in mind.