Seattle stayed close in Texas until a seven-run eighth inning turned the game into a blowout.

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ARLINGTON, Texas — An uncharacteristically subpar performance by the bullpen combined with some shaky fielding overshadowed what had been an exciting pitcher’s duel between two Japanese starters at Rangers Ballpark. The Mariners surrendered seven runs in the eighth inning en route to a 9-3 loss to the Rangers Friday night.

With Seattle trailing 2-1, the Rangers erupted for seven runs, four of them unearned, against four different relievers in the eighth to break the game open.

The Mariners tacked on two more of their own in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough to avoid losing their fifth game in their last seven and fall 17 ½ games behind the American League West-leading Rangers.

“There needs to be a lot of focus on that eighth inning,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said, “because I can’t count how many things we did wrong, which is sure as hell disappointing at this time of year — defensively, pitch selection, just making plays in general, things that just can’t happen. You do that and they’re going to run over you and that’s what happened tonight.”

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The pitching matchup, featuring Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma against Texas rookie Yu Darvish, was just the eighth all-time major-league matchup between two Japanese starters.

It was also the seventh time the two friends had faced each other, with the previous six coming in Japan, where Darvish’s clubs had prevailed four times.

Darvish (15-9) was dominant for the Rangers, striking out nine while limiting the Mariners to just two hits in seven innings. Seattle did manage to eke out a run in the fourth inning when Michael Saunders scored on a Jesus Montero sacrifice fly that pulled them to 2-1.

“I think he was getting ahead on a lot of counts, he was locating that cutter low and in, and it was a good pitch tonight,” said Saunders of Darvish.

Iwakuma (6-5) looked strong despite taking the loss, giving up just two runs on seven hits through 5-1/3 innings, while walking one and striking out four. The only runs he allowed came on solo home runs by Ian Kinsler in the first inning and one in the third by Josh Hamilton, who returned to the Rangers’ lineup after getting an injection to lubricate his sore left knee that kept him out of Texas’ game on Thursday. It was the first time this year Iwakuma has surrendered more than one homer in an outing.

“This lineup is a real task, so I really concentrated for the game,” Iwakuma said through an interpreter. “I got hit for two home runs, but I tried to keep making good pitches and tried to minimize the damage, and of course, Darvish was a good pitcher for them, so I just hung in there.”

Added Wedge: “Kuma did a really nice job tonight. … He gave us every opportunity to win, we just weren’t able to do anything against Darvish.”

The two starters, who were teammates on Japan’s gold medal-winning World Baseball Classic squad in 2009, had last faced each other in the Nippon Professional Baseball last season. “It’s not really very different from pitching in Japan against him,” said Iwakuma, who suffered his second straight loss after winning four straight decisions between Aug. 11 and Sept. 2. “We are friends and in Japan, we go to dinner sometimes, and I keep in touch with him.”

After Hamilton’s RBI double in the eighth, which Carlos Peguero misplayed in right field, the Rangers wound up loading the bases with one out against Stephen Pryor, when David Murphy hit a ground ball to second baseman Dustin Ackley.

Ackley threw home for the force out, but his throw bounced and made Montero come off the plate to field it, letting another run score. Then Geovany Soto doubled home two more runs, and after a walk to Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus drilled a bases-loaded triple to right-center to score three more.

Kinsler’s leadoff home run in the first appeared to bounce back onto the field off the wall in front of the Mariners’ bullpen, but replays showed the ball ricocheting off the top of the wall into the bullpen, where it hit a chair and quickly bounced out.

Hamilton made it 2-0 Texas in the third when he crushed a two-out bomb well into the upper deck in right field for his major league-leading 42nd home run.

Montero added his second RBI of the night with a single that scored Kyle Seager to get two back for the Mariners in the ninth.

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