The first four innings sailed by Sunday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark, as starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Erasmo Ramirez worked efficiently in front of defenses that made every play.
Then, the game dissolved into one that neither team wanted to win.
Fielders made mistakes, so did base runners, and the last thing a pitcher wanted was the task of delivering a shut-down inning after his team had just given him a lead or fought to tie up the game.
Oh, and there were walks. Leadoff walks. Two-out walks. Costly walks. But no walk-off for the Texas Rangers.
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Kyle Seager delivered a two-out double off Joe Nathan in the ninth inning to lift Seattle to a 4-3 victory that clinched a three-game series against the division-leading Rangers, who have only a half-game advantage over Oakland.
“He probably is that guy we don’t want to have beat us, but again a guy that I’m going to go after and take my chances with those types of pitches,” said Nathan, who believed Seager was looking for a slider. “Credit goes to him. He beat me today.”
Twice a leadoff walk haunted the Rangers, and two more times a two-out walk preceded a run-scoring hit. That was the case in the ninth as Nathan issued a free pass to rookie Nick Franklin, and Seager followed with the game-winner.
But the final five innings resembled nothing close to the opening frames. Darvish, who allowed three runs in 71/3 innings, and Ramirez posted almost identical lines over the first four innings before the game became sloppy.
The Mariners didn’t exactly solve Darvish in the fifth, but they did score the game’s first run as the Rangers’ defense faltered.
Michael Saunders’ grounder eluded second baseman Ian Kinsler for a leadoff single. He went to second on a Dustin Ackley chopper that first baseman Mitch Moreland turned into a hit by first looking to second base and then being too late to get back the bag at first.
The Rangers then had Saunders picked off at second base after A.J. Pierzynski threw behind him on the next pitch, but shortstop Jurickson Profar couldn’t grip the ball as Saunders slid safely into third with a steal.
Endy Chavez then hit another chopper to Moreland, who had a shot to get Saunders at home but instead took the sure out by stepping on first.
“Unlucky plays are a part of the game. I make errors sometimes. We all make errors,” said Darvish, who threw 120 pitches. “My job was to keep the game close and go deep into the game. I was able to do that today.”
Pierzynski sparked the Rangers in the bottom half of the fifth, legging out a leadoff double, moving to third on a grounder to second by Alex Rios, and scoring on a sacrifice fly by Moreland.
But Darvish had only himself to blame as the Mariners scored again in the sixth, an inning that started with a walk to Franklin and a wild pitch. Franklin moved to third on a flyout by Seager, but was still there with two outs.
Darvish, though, walked Justin Smoak and got ahead of Saunders before he dumped the seventh pitch of the at-bat into right field for an RBI double.
The Rangers again had an immediate answer, as Craig Gentry reached on an error, stole second on the next pitch and went to third as Humberto Quintero’s throw sailed into center field. Adrian Beltre got Gentry home with two outs on a blooper to right field.
Darvish avoided damage in the seventh after a walk and a single to the first two Mariners, but the same start to the eighth proved costly. Darvish got Smoak, and Robbie Ross retired Saunders to move the Rangers closer to another escape, but Ackley singled with two outs to bring in Seager for a 3-2 lead.
The Rangers countered once again as Yoervis Medina walked Gentry with one out in the eighth, and Elvis Andrus doubled him home. The rally fizzled, though, as Andrus, already in scoring position, was thrown out trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt.
“I took my chances right there,” Andrus said. “That’s what happens when you’re aggressive. You either make it or you don’t.”
Nathan (3-2) entered for the ninth and yielded a leadoff single to Chavez. After a sacrifice bunt, Nathan got Brad Miller for the second out but walked Franklin.
“Franklin, I think we walked him twice,” manager Ron Washington said. “I don’t want to take anything away from that kid, but that’s the guy you’ve got to go after.”
Nathan thought he threw a good slider to Seager, who won the game on Friday with a late homer, but the Rangers’ weekend nemesis delivered another game-winner.