ARLINGTON, Texas – That thump heard in the Northwest on Tuesday was the Seattle Mariners, landing at .500.
Six games into 2012, they’d averaged over six runs a night in their previous three, then ran into Neftali Feliz and promptly lost to the Texas Rangers, 1-0.
In a ballpark built for hitters, pitching produced the 10th 1-0 game in a park opened in 1994.
Blake Beavan was marvelous, going 6 innings against one of the American League’s better lineups and allowing one run – scored on a second-inning infield single.
Feliz out-did him: seven shutout innings in his first career start. Once he walked to the mound, the Mariners were done, historically and emotionally.
“He didn’t throw quite as hard tonight as when he was closing for them,” Kyle Seager said, “but he was still in the mid-to-high 90s and he mixed it up more than we expected.
“When you’re throwing the fastball like that, a hitter has to look for it, and he threw a great change-up tonight. He threw me quite a few.”
It wasn’t a case of either starting pitcher making a major mistake. In a game where every swing could change the outcome, defense was at a premium – and in the second inning, a play the Mariners practiced all spring bit them.
Adrian Beltre led off with a double, but Beavan fielded a comebacker from Michael Young and caught Beltre too far off second base.
Beavan fired to third baseman Seager, who ran Beltre back toward second and threw to shortstop Munenori Kawasaki. They tagged Beltre for the out, but it took another throw – which allowed Young to reach second base.
“Ideally, we get him before the runner advances to second,” Seager said.
Manager Eric Wedge said Seager gave the ball up too quickly on the first throw, giving Beltre room to maneuver. Had he run him toward second base hard, then thrown, a quick tag keeps Young at first base.
Was it a big play?
Young wound up scoring the only run of the game on an infield single.
Still, one run in Arlington holding up?
“Tonight, it was more about what the pitchers did than what the hitters didn’t do,” Wedge said.
With Feliz, it almost figured. As a closer over the years, the Mariners found him untouchable. Literally, unhittable. When Justin Smoak singled in the fourth inning, it ended an 0-for-58 streak against Feliz by the Mariners.
Smoak’s single came in the wrong at-bat.
After walks to Chone Figgins and, with one out, Ichiro Suzuki in the first inning, Feliz was as vulnerable as he got all game. Smoak came up, grounded into a double play, and the Mariners got only one man as far as second base again the rest of the game.
“Both starters not only pitched well, they both pitched smart,” Wedge said.
“Games like that our fun,” Beavan insisted. “You focus on every pitch, because you know every one of them can make a difference. I had command of my fastball and sinker, but it had been a while since I pitched.”
Beavan last pitched on April 1 – in a Cactus League game against Kansas City – and had faced hitters only twice since the team flew to Japan on March 22.
Perhaps more important, it was Beavan’s first start in Arlington, about a 25-minute drive from his family home in Irving.
“I don’t know how many games I came to here, probably thousands,” Beavan said, mangling the math. “I had friends with season tickets, but a lot of times we’d come, buy cheap seats and then move down when we could.
“Even as a kid, I dreamed of pitching on that mound. Tonight, I did.”
Beavan allowed six hits to the Rangers, working out of jams when he got into them, frustrating hitters with a 92 mph fastball and an assortment of off-speed pitches that had then lunging.
It was his poor fortune to be matched against Feliz, a Single-A teammate in 2008.
“He pitched a great game,” Beavan said. “I’m happy for him. I did my best to beat them.”
After a 3-1 start, all against Oakland, the Mariners have played two games with Texas and are 3-3 overall, with two games left in this series. On Monday, they lost 11-5.
On Tuesday, their only offense in nine innings against Feliz and the Rangers bullpen was two singles from Smoak and two more from designated hitter Jesus Montero.
While it was the kind of game Mariners fans may think they saw too many of in 2011, in fairness, this is one game against a pitcher they had never managed a hit against in 17 previous games.
“Last year, I saw him, and he threw me fastballs and a couple of sliders,” Seager said. “I never saw his change-up. Tonight, he had a good one. He pitched a great game.”