Before a crowd of 12,759 — the third smallest at Safeco Field this season, and ever — the Mariners continued the momentum from their road trip, beating Texas 4-3.
The Mariners were early in their game with the Rangers on Tuesday when Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano completed the first no-hitter of the 2011 season, against the White Sox.
Seattle starter Erik Bedard proceeded to flirt with the night’s second no-no before finally giving up his first hit, an Ian Kinsler double leading off the sixth inning.
Deprived of that milestone, the Mariners provided magic of a different sort, rallying for two runs in the bottom of the eighth for a hard-fought 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers.
Jack Cust, emerging from a seasonlong slump, had the game-winning hit for the second time in the past three games.
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“When you’re winning ballgames, everything’s better, no matter what your stats are or how you’re feeling personally,” Cust said. “You just want to do something to help the team win, whether it’s get on base and score a run, or drive in a run.”
Before a crowd of 12,759 — the third smallest at Safeco Field this season, and ever — the Mariners continued the momentum from their just-concluded road trip, in which they won five of six games. They are now just two games out of first place in the American League West.
“There’s a lot of energy in the dugout,” manager Eric Wedge said. “They’re pulling for each other. They’ve competed from the first inning of the first game of the year. When you keep pushing, good things are going to happen.”
After the Rangers had moved ahead 3-2 in the top of the eighth on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt by Elvis Andrus, the Mariners exploited the shaky Texas bullpen. Rookie Pedro Strop started the inning, and gave up a leadoff single to Adam Kennedy on a fly ball that dropped in short left.
Miguel Olivo followed with a bunt single as Strop slipped as he fielded the ball in front of the plate. Justin Smoak then smashed a single off the glove of first baseman Mike Napoli, driving in pinch-runner Jack Wilson and sending Olivo to third. It was Smoak’s third hit, and second RBI, of the game, against his former team.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Smoak said. “I figured he was going to off-speed with runners in scoring position. I got a slider or something and I was able to sneak it on through. I thought he had it when I first hit it.”
Veteran Darren Oliver replaced Strop and promptly allowed a single up the middle by Cust that scored Olivo with the go-ahead run. Cust jumped on a first-pitch curve by Oliver as the Rangers, missing injured closer Neftali Feliz, lost for the sixth time in their opponents’ final at-bat.
“I just had a feeling he was going to go to that pitch there,” Cust said. “I wanted to be ready, though, just in case he came with a heater. But I had a feeling they’d try to steal a strike with an off-speed pitch early.
“I’ve faced him a bunch over the years. He doesn’t really have any pattern. You just have to be ready to hit. I know what his ball does — his fastball, his curveball. That ball was up a little bit, and I was able to get it through the infield.”
The Mariners were left with runners on first and third and no outs, but couldn’t get an insurance run.
Brandon League made that a moot point, however, as he picked up his eighth save in as many opportunities despite giving up a leadoff single to Adrian Beltre in the ninth inning. League struck out two Rangers.
Bedard turned in his second straight strong start. Coming off a victory over the Tigers in his last start, in which he gave up just one run in seven innings, Bedard had another seven-inning stint. This time, he gave up just two hits, both in the sixth, striking out three and walking two.
Those two walks came to the first two hitters Bedard faced and seemed to forecast a long, struggling night. But after getting touched for a run, he settled down and retired 14 in a row before Kinsler’s double.
“He really had to work in that first inning,” Wedge said. “For him to give us seven strong innings, that says a lot just about how far he’s come. Just for the fact that it’s been a while since he’s been out there. We continue to see him take steps from start to start.”
Said Bedard: “That first inning was a little rough. I was having a hard time controlling the strike zone. I was just trying to battle up there, trying to throw strikes and get people out. As the game progressed, the changeup got really good and the curveball did too.”
Bedard didn’t get the victory, but he gave the Mariners a chance to win.
“We always feel like we are in it,” Smoak said. “Our pitching is going to keep us in the game, and as long we can get a hit with runners in scoring position, we’ve got a chance day in and day out.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org