ARLINGTON, Texas – For much of the night, it shaped up as a boilerplate Mariners’ forehead-slapping loss in the making.
A wasted Felix Hernandez gem? Check. Numerous squandered scoring opportunities? Check. Lots of flailing at-bats resulting in whiff after whiff? Check.
But this one had a surprise ending: A 4-2 Mariners’ victory in 10 innings as Kyle Seager came up with the elusive clutch hit, a two-out, two-run homer off left-handed reliever Robbie Ross.
Tom Wilhelmsen, returning to the closing role, nailed down his first save since June 10, and the Mariners have two rousing victories at Rangers Ballpark – traditionally an inhospitable locale for them — to start their trip.
“It’s big for us,’’ Hernandez said. “We needed that to finally come through here in this place.”
There were numerous supporting acts for Seager’s heroics – a line drive that manager Eric Wedge wasn’t sure was going to clear the fence. Wedge was screaming at Michael Saunders, the base runner at first, to start sprinting so he could score on a ball off the wall. Instead, it went over the wall.
“I knew I hit it pretty good, but it didn’t really get too high for me,’’ Seager said. “So I was hoping, let’s put it that way.”
It was the third hit of the game for Seager, and the first time in his career he has hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later.
“He’s a clutch hitter,’’ Wedge said. “He hits with no fear. Left-handers, right-handers, he’s going to give himself a chance.”
Also clutch was Saunders’ two-out walk that preceded Seager’s homer. Sidelined for nearly a week with a sore finger, he entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth, then battled from an 0-2 count to reach base.
Another key at-bat was provided with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth by rookie Mike Zunino. With the Mariners on the verge of blowing a scoring chance, Zunino also worked back from an 0-2 count to 3-2 before hitting a hard grounder that went off the glove of third baseman Adrian Beltre for a single that drove in the tying run.
Zunino had struck out his two previous times, each with two runners aboard. The Mariners fanned 14 times in the game.
“I just needed to stay patient,’’ Zunino said. “But I fell behind 0-2. They were still trying to put me away with the same stuff. I was able to lay off a couple sliders in the dirt and get one a little more elevated on 3-2 and put it down the line.”
Hernandez limited the Rangers to two runs in seven innings, both coming on solo homers in the fifth inning, by David Murphy and Ian Kinsler.
“I fell behind against Murphy and he hit it pretty good,’’ Hernandez said. “Kinsler put a great at-bat and I missed my pitch and he hit it out of the ballpark. I used everything. He just fouled them off. He was a tough at-bat.”
Jason Bay had started off the Mariners positively by leading off the game with a homer, and Wilhelmsen ended it positively by retiring the Rangers in order in the 10th for his 17th save.
“Every single inning is exciting and fun to be out there,’’ he said when asked about returning to a save situation. “If we had scored runs the inning prior, I wouldn’t have been out there. So I don’t know or quite frankly care so much if it’s a closer’s role or not. It’s just getting outs at this point.”
The Mariners had a chance to win the game in regulation in the eighth when they got runners to first and third with one out.
Dustin Ackley hit into an inning-ending double play, though replays appeared to show him beating the throw to first.
Even with the win, the Mariners are just 7-17 in Arlington since 2011, so each victory here is one to be savored.