Mariners take encouragement from tight loss to Rangers
A 3-2 defeat prevented Seattle from winning the season-long series with Texas for the first time since 2007.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One could almost sense the relief from the visiting Texas Rangers as they filed off Safeco Field with a victory they'd nearly given away.
The Mariners made sure nothing came easy for the two-time defending American League champions this season, playing them tough in a 19-game series that came right down to the final at-bat. And even though the Mariners were beaten 3-2 in Sunday's finale between the teams, manager Eric Wedge hopes this is something his young squad can build on.
"We're just a little bit short right now," Wedge said. "But still, you take two out of three toward the end of September against a first-place club and arguably one of the best teams in the league, I think it says a lot about our young kids and how far they've come."
The Mariners didn't just play the Rangers tough this series, in which they had a shot at their first sweep of Texas since 2007. Seattle also hadn't won a season series over the Rangers since that same year and would have done it with a win Sunday in front of 19,024 fans.
But on a day when both teams struggled with runners in scoring position, the Mariners left Michael Saunders at second base in the ninth when Franklin Gutierrez went down swinging against closer Joe Nathan. All of the scoring in this game came via the long ball, with Texas going up 3-0 in the fourth inning on a solo blast by Mike Napoli and a two-run shot from Geovany Soto, both off Mariners starter Jason Vargas.
Seattle finally got to Texas starter Ryan Dempster in the seventh when Eric Thames and Brendan Ryan hit solo homers. But that was it for the scoring, with the Mariners missing their biggest chance in the eighth with runners at second and third and only one out.
"You've got to push at least one run across there," Wedge said. "You've got to put that ball in play. You've got to do more than what we did."
Thames made the big out of the inning when he went down swinging against reliever Mike Adams, while Luis Jimenez later popped out to center field.
"The ball was right down the middle and missed my bat," Thames said.
In his previous at-bat, Thames had connected on a fastball for the home run after the Mariners spent much of the day letting Dempster get by with a fastball-slider combo. The Rangers had their struggles as well against Vargas and the Mariners bullpen, going 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position — including two innings in which they had a runner on third with none out.
Vargas had escaped a fifth-inning jam with runners at the corners and none out, getting Adrian Beltre on a foul popout to the catcher, then a 6-4-3 double-play off the bat of Nelson Cruz. Despite an earned-run average of 5.21 in three prior outings against the Rangers this season, Vargas had not allowed more than four runs in any one outing — two of them in hitter-friendly Texas.
"You've just got to get ahead," Vargas said. "They've got a lot of good hitters throughout their lineup ... you've just got to execute your pitches and limit the number of guys you allow on base."
The Mariners executed more against Texas this season than they did against any other AL West opponent, going 9-10 overall. The Rangers appeared to be running away with the division in May before the Mariners won a series at Rangers Ballpark, taking the finale by a score of 21-8.
Texas hasn't had as easy a stretch leading the division since that time, though this win keeps them four games up on Oakland. Whether there is any carry-over to this for Seattle next season remains to be seen, though Wedge said it gave his coaching staff a useful gauge of their current talent.
"You see different individuals doing different things, whether it be bad or good," Wedge said. "You get different step-up opportunities and see how people react in different situations.
"We played a good team like Texas; you fight them hard and win two out of three. We had a chance to sweep them here today."
And Wedge hopes that next year, his young team will finish the job.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.