ARLINGTON, Texas — The Seattle Mariners are just fine playing the role of spoiler.
Former Rangers infielder Justin Smoak homered in the eighth inning and drove in a run in the ninth as the Mariners handed American League West-leading Texas its second loss in three games with an 8-6 win Saturday night.
With the loss and an Oakland A’s win, the Rangers’ lead is down to two games ahead of the surging A’s. Seattle will have plenty of chances to play a part in the final standings, as seven of their final 16 games are against the Rangers and A’s.
“It’s a little different for (the Rangers) than last year,” Seattle starting pitcher Justin Vargas said. “There weren’t any teams chasing them last year, but now they’re under the gun a little bit.”
Smoak had three hits, two runs and three RBIs, helping Seattle build a 6-0 lead in the first three innings while sending Texas starter Scott Feldman to the bench after just 2 2-3 innings. Feldman, who had lost his last five starts going into the game, threw 71 pitches.
Lucas Luetge (2-1) got two outs for the Seattle victory while Tom Wilhelmsen got the final four outs for his 27th save in 30 chances.
Dustin Ackley homered to lead off the third and Michael Saunders had a two-run triple. Saunders also had a RBI single in the first. Smoak scored Saunders with a single and Eric Thames plated Smoak to make it 6-0. Smoak’s home run was his career-high tying 15th, and Saunders went 2-for-4 with a triple, walk and three RBI.
“The offense did a great job early on, moving on down the line and keeping it going,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I feel like we’ve been swinging the bats well, but not doing a good job with runners in scoring position. So keeping it going in that one big inning was big. That and tacking on (a run in the ninth).”
Martin Perez kept the Rangers in the game in relief of Feldman. He retired 13 of the 15 batters he faced, only allowing a walk and hitting a batter. He struck out five and became the first Texas reliever with 4.1-plus innings pitched to allow no hits and no runs since Mark Brandenburg did the same in 4.2 innings against Seattle on July 6, 1996.
“I thought he was great,” Washington said. “The kid came in and kept the ball down in the zone and had a good change up and was aggressive. He threw the ball extremely well.”
Texas got on the board in the third after Vargas walked the bases loaded. Nelson Cruz’s sacrifice fly scored a run for the Rangers to make it 6-1, but Vargas struck out Michael Young to end the inning.
In the sixth, catcher Mike Napoli, in his first start after a stint on the 15-day disabled list because of a left quadriceps strain, hit a three-run home run to bring the Rangers within two, 6-4.
Napoli made his last rehab start at DH on Friday night for Double A Frisco by going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. Going into Saturday’s game against the Mariners, Napoli joked that he told his Rangers teammates that he got those out of the way and “left the strikeouts down there.”
Cruz had an RBI single in the sixth and David Murphy a run-scoring ground out to tie it.
With the game tied 6-6 in the eighth, Tanner Sheppers relieved Perez and Smoak led off the inning with his 15th homer. He then had an RBI single in the ninth that scored John Jaso. Sheppers (1-1) took the loss.
“I’ve been working really hard left-handed,” said Smoak. “I’ve been trying to keep both hands on the bat and shorten it up a little bit. My swing got long. To come around on a fastball like that, that’s a good sign.”
NOTES: The Rangers activated both C Mike Napoli and LHP Robbie Ross from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday. Ross (left forearm strain) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Friday and could have been available Saturday evening if needed but manager Ron Washington said they wanted to stay away from him one more day. After the game, Texas recalled RHP Justin Grimm and RHP Wilmer Font from Double-A Frisco to give the Rangers 34 active players for Sunday’s game. Grimm had a prior stint with Texas from June 16-July 6, while Font is looking for his Major League debut. .Mariners RF Casper Wells was a late scratch and was replaced by Eric Thames in right field. “He took a swing in the cage an his neck locked up pretty good on him,” Manager Eric Wedge said about Wells. .Wedge reiterated that the team is going to give RHP Kevin Millwood time to recover from shoulder stiffness, plugging in RHP Erasmo Ramirez and RHP Hector Noesi. “We’ll see if (Millwood’s) going to pitch again,” Wedge said.