By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Once again, the Mariners were bedeviled by the final 90 feet between third base and home plate for much of the evening.
They put the first two runners on in the first. They never moved.
Raul Ibanez started the second with a single. Never moved. A walk and a single in the fifth had two on with none out for Seattle. No one crossed the plate.
Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez was behind because of a mistake by him and one by Jesus Montero — who found redemption later in the game.
The Mariners’ offense spent much of the night as a simmering pot refusing to boil over.
Finally, in the sixth, Montero smashed a two-run home run to left-center field and Kendrys Morales’ pinch-hit single in the seventh drove home the winning run in a incremental 3-2 Saturday night win over the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
Prior to Montero’s homer, his second of the season, the Mariners left runners on base every inning.
With two on and none out in the fifth, Dustin Ackley bunted despite being the owner of an eight-game hitting streak, during which he’s hitting .414. That produced an out at third.
A walk to Kyle Seager loaded the bases, but Michael Morse struck out and Justin Smoak popped out. The Mariners are hitting .058 with the bases loaded this season.
Chris Iannetta — who was 0-for-8 in his career against Hernandez coming into the game — crushed a first-pitch slider to left-center field for a third-inning homer to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.
Montero then helped the Angels score a second run in the inning when his errant throw to second to get a stealing Peter Bourjos skipped into center field. Bourjos zipped on to third base and scored on Mike Trout’s sacrifice fly to right.
Hernandez tried to counter the Mariners’ black-cat run in the fourth. Los Angeles put on a hit-and-run with Howie Kendrick, whose grounder hit Hernandez in the right calf. That collision rerouted a would-be double play ball to a hole between Brendan Ryan and Ackley for a single.
With Mark Trumbo, who had walked, on third as a result, Brendan Harris tried a safety squeeze. Hernandez charged, fielded then flipped the ball with his glove to Montero to cut down Trumbo. Iannetta flew out to end the inning.
Trumbo is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Montero gamely stuck his leg out to thwart the oncoming dump truck and handle Hernandez’s glove toss.
“This guy is huge,” Montero said. “Those moments are scary.”
That out sent Hernandez (3-2) on a dominant run. He retired 14 consecutive batters to finish his eight suffocating innings in typical fashion. His ERA is down to 1.90 and his WHIP is 0.96 after allowing five hits and one earned run against Los Angeles.
Saturday night’s mastery produced Hernandez’s first win against the Angels (9-14) since Sept. 6, 2011. Hernandez was 0-3 with a 6.25 ERA against them last season.
“It’s been a while since I beat those guys,” Hernandez said.
Mariners (10-16) manager Eric Wedge opted for switch-hitting Morales instead of Raul Ibanez against left-hander Michael Roth in the seventh. Morales was getting a scheduled day off before being summoned and coming through.
His single to drive in Seager, who extended his hitting streak to 16 games, made Mariners pinch-hitters 5-for-13 (.385) this season.
Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth for his seventh save despite Hernandez — who had ice on his elbow, shoulder and lower back after the game — having thrown just 95 pitches.
It was just enough to stave off another no-decision or loss for Hernandez despite exquisite pitching.
“I want Felix to win,” Montero said. “I want the team to win. We’re having a hard time scoring runs, but I give them a little help so we can win the game tonight.”