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Originally published September 25, 2012 at 10:39 PM | Page modified September 26, 2012 at 11:00 PM

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Mariners match major-league record with 20 strikeouts in 5-4 loss

Angels pitchers notched 20 strikeouts against the Mariners Tuesday night, equaling Roger Clemens' performance against Seattle and tying the major-league record for a nine-inning game.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Wednesday

Mariners @ Angels, 7:05 p.m., ROOT

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Justin Smoak could at least take solace after this bizarre night that he'd had little to do with the record-tying 20 strikeouts by his Mariners.

That fact alone from the normally whiff-prone Smoak helped make a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels Tuesday night one of the stranger games in franchise history. In fact, Smoak was the one who kept this a game at all, becoming the fourth Seattle player to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a game.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, that wasn't enough on a night they again stranded a plethora of runners while equaling the team record for strikeouts and the major-league record for whiffs in a nine-inning game. The only other time the Mariners fanned this often was the historic Roger Clemens game in 1986, and Zack Greinke of the Angels spent the first five innings of this one looking like he'd replicate it.

"The guy has danged good stuff," Smoak said of Greinke, who fanned 13 in the first five innings alone. "It's just one of those things where a lot of guys haven't faced him. I know I haven't faced him in a while. So, it's one of those things where, with two strikes, he was bumping up on his fastball a bit — throwing it harder."

Smoak struck out in his first at-bat, then tagged a high pitch from Greinke his next time up in the fourth for a solo homer to cut an Angels lead to 2-1. But that was the only run against Greinke despite seven hits off him in his five innings.

All the strikeouts and hits caught up to Greinke when his pitch count hit 111 through five and forced him from the game. But not before he delighted the crowd of 38,538 at Angel Stadium by becoming the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2001 to notch 13 strikeouts in the first five innings of a game.

Greinke also became the first since 1920 to fan 13 in a start lasting five or fewer innings.

Garrett Richards took over in the sixth and promptly struck out the side. In fact, if not for Angels southpaw Scott Downs, the Mariners might have obliterated the big-league record. Downs was the only Angels pitcher without a strikeout and he nearly gave the game away. Home runs by Torii Hunter in the fifth and Erick Aybar in the sixth had given the Angels a 5-1 lead off Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez before Downs began the seventh in place of Richards.

The Mariners had gone 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position to that point — including after doubles by Miguel Olivo in the second and fourth. But Dustin Ackley opened with a double off Downs, followed by a Franklin Gutierrez double that made it a 5-2 game.

Smoak stepped up two batters later, batting right-handed, and sent a Downs fastball over the left-field wall for a two-run homer. But that was as close as the Mariners got.

For Smoak, his improved approach at the plate of late was evidenced when he drew a fifth-inning walk against Greinke on a full-count checked-swing he might have offered at not too long ago.

"It's just one of those things where I feel like I'm in a better position to hit," Smoak said. "And I don't have to speed up to try to catch up to the fastball."

Not everybody could say the same.

Despite his double, Ackley struck out four times.

"I just missed pitches to hit," Ackley said. "I didn't feel like there was anything crazy going on. I was just missing everything."

"You even put 10 of those balls in play, it's a different ballgame," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of all the strikeouts. ...

"You've got to put the ball in play, and you've got to battle through at-bats. We're battling through at-bats, but we've got to do a better job of squaring up on balls that we're missing early and putting the ball in play with two strikes."

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

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