Felix Hernandez’s push for his first 20-victory season stalled at the wall Saturday night before the Mariners tumbled late in a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
David Freese led off the ninth inning with a homer to center against Danny Farquhar (1-5) for the walk-off victory.
The Mariners missed a chance in the top of the ninth after Robinson Cano led off with a single to right against Angels closer Huston Street. Brad Miller replaced Cano as a pinch-runner and stole second.
Franklin Gutierrez’s grounder to third failed to advance Miller, but Street stumbled as he broke from the mound to back up third. Street required assistance to leave the field.
After Jose Alvarez replaced Street, first baseman C.J. Cron made a diving stop on pinch hitter Seth Smith’s sharp grounder and turned it into an out as Miller reached third.
The Angels then opted for an intentional walk to Logan Morrison before summoning Fernando Salas (4-2) to pitch to Jesus Sucre. The strategy worked. Sucre grounded out to second.
Then Freese ended it.
The game, however, turned in the fourth inning.
Hernandez and the Mariners had a 2-1 lead in the fourth after the King wiggled out of a couple of nasty jams. The Mariners had two runners on base when Jesus Montero sent a drive to deep center field.
Mike Trout retreated to the warning track, timed his jump and reached over the wall to pull the ball back for a magnificent catch.
Instead of a three-run homer, it was just an out. Instead of a 5-1 lead for Hernandez, it remained a one-run lead. Trout’s catch stunned everyone; the runners didn’t even advance.
LA starter Andrew Heaney then retired the next two hitters.
That permitted the Angels to pull even when Cron crushed a 1-1 sinker from Hernandez for a leadoff homer in the sixth inning. The ball cleared the shrubbery beyond the center-field wall.
Trout at his best wouldn’t have brought that one back. Not Willie Mays or anyone else, either.
It stayed 2-2 through the sixth. Both teams went to their bullpen in the seventh. Hernandez (18-9) and Heaney got no-decisions.
Hernandez also entered the game needing 4 1/3 innings to reach 200 for an eighth straight season (check) and 15 strikeouts to reach 200 for a seventh straight season (he now needs nine).
His final start will be next weekend against Oakland at Safeco Field in the season’s concluding series. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Hernandez would either start Friday or get an extra day of rest and start Saturday.
A victory in his final start would enable Hernandez to match his career high of 19 victories in 2009. It’s possible, of course, the Mariners could also use him in relief at some point to get a victory.
The Mariners did just that 18 years ago when Randy Johnson became the first pitcher in franchise history to win 20 games. It was the Big Unit’s only 20-victory season with the Mariners.
Hernandez endured a 26-pitch first inning that saw the first four (and five of the first six) Angels reach base, but he limited the damage to one run. It could have, probably should have, been much worse.
Erick Aybar was thrown out stealing after a leadoff single, but the Angels kept coming. Kole Calhoun lined a single into center before Trout hit a tough (but playable) grounder to third that Kyle Seager boxed.
It was scored a single.
After a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, Hernandez walked Albert Pujols. A sacrifice fly by David Murphy scored the run before another wild pitch again put runners on second and third.
A catcher’s interference call on Jesus Sucre put C.J. Cron on first and reloaded the bases, but Hernandez stranded all three runners by striking out Freese.
The Mariners answered in the second inning after Franklin Gutierrez drew a leadoff walk. He went to third on Montero’s one-out double and scored on Sucre’s grounder to second.
Hernandez escaped another big jam in the second after Johnny Giavotella lined a one-out triple into the right-center gap. The Angels tried for a squeeze with Aybar, but Hernandez flipped the ball to Sucre for the out.
Aybar went to third on Calhoun’s single before Hernandez loaded the bases by walking Trout. But the Angels came up empty when Pujols grounded out to short.
And then … the Mariners took the lead when Ketel Marte led off the third with a 410-foot drive to left for his first big league home run. Hernandez then had a one-two-three third with two strikeouts.
The Mariners opened the fourth inning with singles by Gutierrez and Mark Trumbo before Trout turned the game with his catch at the wall.
SUNDAY: Seattle (RHP Hisashi Iwakuma: 9-4, 3.67 ERA) at Los Angeles Angels (RHP Jered Weaver: 7-12, 4.86), 12:35 p.m., Root Sports,