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Originally published April 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 14, 2007 at 9:08 PM

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M's off to a balky start

The Mariners' two-day festival of good vibes and avenging victories came to a crashing halt Wednesday in a 9-0 loss at Safeco Field. While Rich Harden, Oakland's...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Friday

Mariners at Cleveland Indians, 1:05 p.m., KOMO 1000 AM, no TV

Pitchers: M's Horacio Ramirez vs. Paul Byrd

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The Mariners' two-day festival of good vibes and avenging victories came to a crashing halt Wednesday in a 9-0 loss at Safeco Field.

While Rich Harden, Oakland's version of Felix Hernandez by way of Victoria, B.C., was shutting Seattle down with authority, Miguel Batista had a nightmare Mariners debut.

In his first start since signing a three-year, $25 million free-agent contract in December, Batista entered the game laden with expectations that he will help solidify Seattle's rotation.

He left in the fifth inning laden with a 15.43 earned-run average. In 4-2/3 innings, before giving way to the credible major-league debut of Sean White, Batista allowed the A's 10 hits — four of them doubles of the booming variety — and eight runs.

He walked two, hit a batter, committed two balks and looked thoroughly unsolidifying. Disintegrating was more like it.

"No excuse," Batista said afterward. "I didn't get the job done. That was the reason we lost. I wish I could give an excuse but I can't."

Batista was nailed on his foot with a line drive by Shannon Stewart in the first inning, and admitted he was sore, but said dismissively, "That shouldn't be an issue."

Friday

Mariners at Cleveland Indians, 1:05 p.m., KOMO 1000 AM, no TV

Pitchers: M's Horacio Ramirez vs. Paul Byrd

He also said he had problems with his landing on delivery, "but it doesn't matter. It's part of the game you're supposed to fix. Notice that the other guy [Harden] had no problem."

The A's, after losing the first two games of the series, looked much more like the team that had won 17 of the previous 18 meetings between the two teams.

In Oakland's clubhouse after the game, several veteran A's players doused first-year manager Bob Geren with beer to commemorate his initial victory.

The performance by Harden, who hit 99 mph on the radar gun, was hugely encouraging for Oakland.

His career has been sidetracked by various injuries — including back and elbow ailments last year that limited him to nine starts — but the consensus around baseball is that Harden will emerge as a dominating ace if he can stay healthy for a full season.

The Mariners wouldn't argue that premise, after watching Harden toy with them for seven shutout innings. Harden allowed three hits — all singles — while striking out seven and walking two.

"He looked a lot like Felix the first day," said Mariners designated hitter Jose Vidro, who went just 1 for 11 in the series. "Maybe it was his day. Maybe he's that good."

Mark Ellis was the hitting star for the A's from the No. 9 spot in the order. He drove in five runs off Batista with a three-run double in the second and a two-run double in the fifth.

The latter hit knocked out Batista, who was replaced by White, the Rule 5 selection out of the Atlanta organization.

White, a 25-year-old right-hander from Mercer Island, was greeted by a smash up the middle by Jason Kendall. It deflected off White's toe into the air, where second baseman Jose Lopez fielded it and threw out Kendall.

White, whose role this season will include mop-up duty in runaway games like this, worked 3-1/3 innings and allowed only one run on two hits. He struck out one and walked one.

"I was real anxious to get that first outing under my belt," he said. "I feel a little relief to get that out of the way."

The A's first lead of the series came in the second inning on, of all things, a Batista balk. By the time the inning ended, Oakland had sent 10 men to the plate and scored five.

Asked to explain the two balks, Batista replied, "That's a hell of a question. I wish I knew. I'll have to look at the video. ... The first one, he said I flinched. The second, I don't know what the hell I did."

Batista, however, said that arguing would have been futile. "I've never seen an umpire take a balk back, so why argue?"

Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said he wouldn't argue with taking a series from Oakland, despite its distasteful conclusion.

"This tells us we can compete in our division, which is what we thought going in," he said. "We're not trying to make a statement. We're just trying to win every game."

But now it's official: They won't.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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