ARLINGTON, Texas — The Mariners’ bid for a four-game sweep fizzled Sunday when their attack went silent in a 1-0 loss to the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park.
It amounted to a sour conclusion to an otherwise successful 5-2 trip that saw the Mariners move atop the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
The problem, simply, was the Mariners had no answer for Texas lefty Derek Holland, who pitched seven scoreless innings in making his second start since returning from off-season knee surgery.
“He was pounding the strike zone with the fastball and using that slider to put guys away,” center fielder Austin Jackson said. “And the times we had a chance to get something going, he made some pretty tough pitches.”
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Holland (1-0) was similarly tough in his previous outing, when he limited Kansas City to one run in seven innings in a no-decision.
“That’s what good pitchers do,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “They shut them down. He’s a good pitcher. He’s a proven pitcher. It wasn’t a fluke. He threw a heck of a game.”
Shawn Tolleson and Neftali Feliz protected Holland’s victory over the final two innings, which pinned a tough loss on Mariners starter James Paxton, who gave up gave up just one run and five hits in six innings.
Feliz got his eighth save in nine chances, although the Mariners made it interesting in the ninth.
Kendrys Morales drew a one-out walk and, after reliever Danny Farquhar entered the game as a pinch-runner, Kyle Seager singled through the right side.
That put runners at first and third with one out, but Feliz held on by retiring James Jones on a pop to short before Justin Smoak sent a fly to left.
“Guys had good at-bats,” McClendon said. “Smoak hit the ball right on the nose. Actually, we had several ball hit right on the nose. It wasn’t our day. There are no excuses. We lost.”
With the victory, the Rangers snapped an eight-game skid and ended with a 10-9 edge in the season series against the Mariners.
“When you look at it overall,” Jackson said, “I think we had a really good road trip. (The last game was) nothing to hang our heads about.”
It stung, though, because the Mariners let opportunities slip away; they were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. They won the two previous games despite going a 3-for-16.
This time, it cost them.
The only run against Paxton (5-2) came after Leonys Martin opened the sixth inning with a line single to center and stole second.
Martin went to third on Daniel Robertson’s grounder to second, which prompted the Mariners to shorten their infield with one out.
When Adam Rosales walked, which put runners at first and third for Adrian Beltre, the Mariners dropped their infield back to double-play depth.
None of the infield positioning mattered.
Beltre sent a sacrifice fly to center for a 1-0 lead.
“I left that cutter up to Martin to lead off the inning there,” Paxton said, “and he got that hit. Beltre hit a good pitch — up and in. I was trying to go inside on him.
“It could have gotten in a little bit more, I think, but he just muscled that ball into the outfield for the sac fly.”
The Mariners threatened an immediate answer.
Robinson Cano started the seventh with an infield single and went to second on a two-out passed ball. Corey Hart’s squib single, when Holland fell down fielding the ball, put runners at first and third.
James Jones replaced Hart as a pinch-runner, but Holland held the lead by retiring Stefen Romero on a grounder to third.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 78-64, but their lead for the final wild-card spot hinged on the outcome of Detroit’s game late Sunday against visiting San Francisco.
A Tigers’ victory would trim the Mariners’ lead to one-half game. A Tigers’ loss would enable the Mariners to maintain a 1 1/2-game advantage.
“My gosh,” McClendon said, “it was a great road trip. Tough loss today. They battled their (backside) off. That’s baseball. That’s the way it goes. You move on.”