Let’s make the game Monday a multiple-choice question:
(A) Labor Day at Safeco Field saw the Mariners turn in a full day of work in a 14-6 thumping of the Texas Rangers. An early seven-run lead turned into a tight game before the Mariners produced a six-run sixth inning.
(B) Labor Day at Safeco Field embodied the struggles of two of the game’s top pitchers before the Mariners finally pulled away for a 14-6 victory over the Texas Rangers.
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“We were winning the game the whole way,” second baseman Robinson Cano said, “but we know what kind of team we’re facing. We needed this. We kept fighting, and we scored more runs.”
The Mariners staked Felix Hernandez (10-5) to a seven-run lead by scoring five times in the first inning before knocking out Rangers starter Cole Hamels (14-5) in a two-run second.
Hernandez gave back five runs in a 49-pitch third inning but worked into the sixth before handing an 8-6 lead to the bullpen. Nick Vincent, Evan Scribner and Dan Altavilla recorded the final 10 outs with few problems.
“I don’t want to talk about that (third) inning,” Hernandez said. “It was my fault. That was a good game for us. Thanks to the offense, we won.”
There were times in the middle innings when the Mariners appeared poised to blow a seven-run lead with their longtime ace on the mound. They had, after all, lost eight of their last nine to the Rangers.
But they steadied with a six-run sixth inning against two rookies and another guy with 25 innings of big-league experience.
“We needed it,” manager Scott Servais said. “Those games are nice. Hopefully, we get some momentum going with it.”
The Mariners are, at this point, in no position to be choosy. They had lost 10 of 12, including three in a row at Texas. Their postseason aspirations are on life support.
By winning Monday, all they did was remain five games behind Baltimore and Detroit in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth with 25 games remaining.
The Mariners totaled 14 hits, including three apiece from Franklin Gutierrez and Jesus Sucre and two two-out RBI singles from Dae-Ho Lee. The right-handed lineup, for a change, packed a punch.
“We’ve talked about it,” Servais said, “that when we’ve struggled against left-handed pitching, Dae-Ho and Guti are the main guys. Guti has certainly stepped up. He’s been our hottest guy here over the week to 10 days.”
In the first inning, Guillermo Heredia led off with a nine-pitch walk before Cano, with one out, rocked a 423-foot homer to right field. Everything else happened with two outs.
Kyle Seager walked and stole second. Lee flicked an RBI single into center and went to third on Leonys Martin’s double past first. Lee and Martin scored on Sucre’s single to center.
The Mariners kept coming in the second. Gutierrez hit a one-out homer to right. Cano followed with a single, went to second on a two-out walk to Seager and scored on Lee’s second two-out single.
That made it 7-0 and finished Hamels.
“When you put yourself in a good count as a hitter,” Hamels said, “it’s a lot easier to see the ball. I have to execute pitches down in the zone. None of the pitches in the zone were down.
“They are the kinds of pitches that good hitters are supposed to hit. I didn’t allow myself to get away with any pitches because I was throwing too many balls.”
A 7-0 lead for Hernandez seemed plenty – until he ran into trouble in the third after issuing two one-out walks. He showed frustration at Dale Scott’s strike zone, but the PitchF/x computer suggested Scott’s calls were correct.
“The umpire (ticked) him off,” Sucre said. “I told him, ‘You’re up 7-0 right here. Get back to your game.’ They were, maybe, off a little bit, but you’ve got to call those pitches.”
Instead, Hernandez fumed and made it worse. After a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, Nomar Mazara hit a three-run homer – and the Mariners’ lead was down to 7-3.
Texas wasn’t done. Carlos Beltran reached on a two-out infield single before Adrian Beltre walked. Rougned Odor battled through nine pitches before punching an RBI single to center.
Jonathan Lucroy followed with an RBI single that made it 7-5 before Hernandez finally ended a 49-pitch inning by retiring Mitch Moreland on a fly to left.
“I was (ticked),” Hernandez admitted. “To be honest, I was (ticked). But you know what? I’m up 7-0. They gave me a lot of runs. I’ve just got to make good pitches.”
Hernandez steadied over the next two innings, and the Mariners got one run back on Gutierrez’s two-out RBI single in the fifth against Yohander Mendez, who was making his major-league debut.
Texas countered on Odor’s leadoff homer in the sixth, but the Mariners pushed back by scoring six runs later in the inning – six! – for a 14-6 lead.
Play of the game – Nelson Cruz scored from third base in the sixth on Lee’s grounder to second. Odor threw to the plate, but Cruz eluded the tag by catcher Lucroy.
Texas challenged the call by Scott, but the call stood. The Mariners took a 9-6 lead on the play – and went on to score five more runs in the inning.
Plus – Gutierrez was 3 for 4 with four RBIs. He’s 10 for 18 in his last six games with four extra-base hits and eight RBIs. … Sucre matched a career high for hits by going 3 for 3 and raised his average from .125 to .364. … Lee was 2 for 5 with three RBIs and is 11 for 24 (.458) since snapping a 0-for-18 skid. … Reliever Nick Vincent retired four straight batters after replacing Hernandez with two outs in the sixth.
Minus – With the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth, Ketel Marte jumped ahead 3-0 in the count – and then looked at three strikes. He struck out four times in five at-bats. Other than that, and Hernandez’s rough third inning, there wasn’t much for the Mariners not to like.
Stat pack – Hernandez made his second straight start against the Rangers, and Hamels did the same against the Mariners. Hernandez gave up 12 runs in 9 2/3 innings and saw his ERA jump from 3.14 to 3.75. Hamels gave up 13 runs in six innings and saw his ERA spike from an American League-leading 2.67 to 3.25.
Quotable – Servais on letting Hernandez throw 49 pitches in the third inning:
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Servais said. “It’s hard to let a pitcher (stay) out there for 49 (pitches). He is the one guy who I had faith that he could work his way through it. Kind of make an adjustment.”
Hernandez said: “They told me it was 49 pitches. I was like, ‘Really?’ I’m going to go back and go one-two-three. He knows I’m the ace of the staff. Sometimes, I have a rough inning, and then I bounce back.”
Hernandez had one-two-three innings in the fourth and fifth.
Short hops – Cano’s homer in the first against Hamels was his 11th of the season against a left-handed pitcher. That’s the most in the majors among left-handed hitters. … Hernandez reached 10 victories for the eighth straight year and the 10th time in his 11 seasons. Third baseman Adrian Beltre tied a Texas record by scoring at least one run in 11 straight games. Michael Young did it in 2005, and Ian Kinsler did it in 2008.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
A.L. wild-card standings