Rangers don’t even need to get the ball out of the infield to score winning run

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Before he walked Adrian Beltre on five pitches with the bases loaded to force across the winning run in yet another agonizing way for the Mariners to lose, the killer for Fernando Rodney was a pair of bunts.

Yes, Rodney failed in the ninth inning once again. But it wasn’t from leadoff walks, or homers or extra-base hits — his past problems.

It was bunting at the hitters’ paradise that is Globe Life Park in Arlington that started all of his struggles in the ninth and ultimately led to Seattle’s 4-3 walkoff defeat against the Rangers.

For the Mariners, it was their ninth walkoff defeat this season, tying them for the most in MLB with the Cincinnati Reds.

With the scored tied 3-3 in the ninth, the Mariners were limited in options with closer Carson Smith and fellow right-hander Danny Farquhar unavailable.

Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon turned to his one-time closer to pitch the ninth, and Rodney faced a pair of right-handers in Ryan Strausborger and Delino DeShields to start the inning.

Strausborger surprised everyone with a push bunt up the first-base line just out of the reach of Rodney, who couldn’t quite grab it as he came off the mound.

“Yeah, he should have had it,” McClendon said. “Sure.”

Rodney didn’t think so.

“It was a good one,” he said. “The only chance I had was to try to flip it. That’s what I tried to do.”

DeShields then bunted for a sacrifice, but it turned into a single. The bunt went right to Kyle Seager at third. He hesitated for a moment, looking at second for a possible play, and then fired to first. The few moments allowed DeShields to beat the throw. McClendon challenged the call, but replays upheld the ruling.

“I was in and I knew how fast he was,” Seager said. “He bunted it — not too firm, but right at me. I came up and took a peek at second just to see if there was a play there and when I threw it to first, he beat it.”

Seager regretted peeking.

“He was getting down the line pretty well and I hesitated a little too much,” he said. “If you have a play at second, that’s the priority out, but you have to make sure of one out there.”

Then the circus that can be Rodney inserted itself into the inning. He hit Shin-Soo Choo with a pitch to load the bases, giving him no room for mistakes.

Rodney said he still believed he would get out of the jam. He struck out Prince Fielder and was looking for a ground ball double play from Beltre.

But Rodney never threw a pitch enticing enough to coax Beltre. He fell behind 3-0, almost hitting Beltre with a 2-0 fastball. He was able to find the strike zone on 3-0, but with the count 3-1, Beltre, who had three hits in the game, showed unusual restraint, letting go a fastball over the plate, but it was down in the zone for ball four.

“I think I made good pitches to try to get out of the inning,” Rodney said. “That’s baseball. Sometimes when you think it’s a good pitch, close to the strike zone, but they’re not (called) strikes.”

Rodney fell to 5-5, but McClendon wouldn’t place all of the blame completely on him. The Mariners probably should have had a two-run lead at least going into the ninth inning.

“It’s never one thing that causes you to lose a game,” he said. “We had opportunities to drive in runs and we didn’t get it done. We had some plays we should have made early that we didn’t make. They threw us out on the tag play, they threw us out on a bunt play, I mean, we just didn’t play well tonight.”

With a bullpen beat up from three run-filled barrages in Boston, Seattle starter Taijuan Walker needed to give the team innings. He was able to do that, but wasn’t quite as sharp as he’d been in recent outings. Walker pitched six innings, giving up three runs on 10 hits on a walk with three strikeouts.

“I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff today,” he said. “They got a lot of hits, infield hits and stuff. It was just a tough one.”

But McClendon was happy to get the six innings.

“He did a nice job tonight,” he said. “I was pleased with the way he went about his business.”

Beltre drove in the Rangers’ first two runs with run-scoring doubles in the first and third innings.