May 25, 2013

Ump’s missed call helps Rangers roll past Mariners

Lance Berkman and Jeff Baker hit homers, but a phantom double play looms as a key play.

The winning team in a 9-5 game usually does plenty of things right, and that was the case Friday night as the Texas Rangers beat up on the Seattle Mariners in the first of three weekend games at Safeco Field.

Lance Berkman and Jeff Baker hit home runs. Justin Grimm allowed 10 hits but pitched well enough to win. Joe Nathan got the easiest save possible by recording the game’s final out.

But none of the good could trump a lively discussion about a key double play in the second inning on a umpire’s call that will rate as one of the worst made this season.

“We caught a break, and it ended up working well for us,” Grimm admitted.

The Rangers were leading 2-1, thanks to Baker’s fifth homer of the season with two outs in the second, but Seattle opened the home half of the inning with singles by Raul Ibanez and Justin Smoak.

Rookie catcher Jesus Sucre followed with a grounder to first that Mitch Moreland fielded and threw to second. Shortstop Elvis Andrus caught it to force out Smoak, and made a throw to first base.

Umpire Jeff Nelson rang up Sucre, leaving the Mariners with two outs and Ibanez at third.

The catch, though, is that Moreland never caught the ball. Grimm, who had gone to cover the bag but was well off it, did catch the ball, and thought he’d blown the play.

He walked back toward the mound, and Moreland joined him.

That happened so fast I didn’t realize the ump had called him out,” Grimm said. “Mitch came up to me and said, ‘Well, he called him out, so walk with me.’”

Moreland had stretched for the ball, and appeared to be limping as he walked toward the mound.

“I think that’s just more the way I walk,” he said. “I kind of wondered where it went, and then I looked up and saw Grimm there and was like, ‘Well, I guess he caught it.’ Then, I heard, ‘Out.’

“I told him to walk with me because I figured there was going to be an argument. That’s the way it works sometimes. Nobody’s perfect, especially in this game. It went our way.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge did argue, though he said it was because he thought Moreland’s foot hadn’t held the bag.

Brendan Ryan followed with a game-tying RBI double, and Seattle should have had runners at second and third with one out. Instead, Michael Saunders looked at strike three to end the inning.

“It would have been a much bigger argument if I had known that at the time,” Wedge said.

But Berkman broke the tie moments later in the top of the third with his fourth homer, a three-run shot, and Elvis Andrus added a sacrifice fly in the fourth to make it 6-3. The Rangers put the game out of reach in the seventh as Nelson Cruz had a two-out RBI single and David Murphy drove in two with a single two batters later.

Seattle scored twice in the ninth, and the tying run was on deck with two outs to create a save situation for Nathan. He struck out Michael Morse to record his 15th save of the season.

“This was a team win, for sure,” Grimm said.

Grimm’s problem early on was finishing off a scoreless inning after getting the first two out, one of manager Ron Washington’s pet peeves. Seattle came away with runs in the first, second and third despite being down to their final out.

He ran into the Mariners’ top hitters in two of the innings, and they didn’t miss mistakes he left up and over the plate.

“The second and third innings were a battle,” Grimm said. “I don’t mind giving up hits, but I was leaving some balls over the plate and making it pretty easy for them.”

Grimm (4-3) started locating his pitches better and pitching into the seventh inning. He got the first out after stretch time before giving way to Neal Cotts, and exited with three runs allowed in 6 1/3 innings, no walks and five strikeouts.

He also got away with a mistake in the field, but he and the Rangers could chuckle about the blown call afterward.

“I just started walking back to the mound like, ‘Dang it. What did I do?’” Grimm said. “They’ve got a tough job, and not many people realize how quick things happen out there. We caught a break, for sure.”

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