Tight, tense and telegenic - that’s the American League West race.
Tight? Four games now separate Texas and Seattle after a 5-2 Mariners victory Tuesday night at the Kingdome highlighted by Terry Mulholland’s five perfect innings and another big hit by Dave Hollins.
Tense? The Rangers had the tying or go-ahead runs at the plate in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and couldn’t score against Mariners relievers Norm Charlton, Mike Jackson and Bobby Ayala, who got the final two outs for his third save.
Telegenic? So sexy has this series become that Game 3 will be on two networks tonight at 7:35 - Prime Sports Northwest in our neighborhood, ESPN nationally.
Seattle has now won six straight games - and in that stretch, the Rangers’ lead has Jenny Craiged from nine games to four. The M’s are now second in the wild-card standings, as well - three games behind Baltimore and a half-game ahead of Chicago, which fell to Cleveland on Tuesday.
That might goose tonight’s attendance past the 32,279 witnessed Seattle’s latest improbable triumph.
“I wouldn’t call it momentum,” said Mulholland, who is 5-2 since joining Seattle from Philadelphia on July 31 in a trade for minor-league infielder Desi Relaford. “We’re just playing very relaxed baseball right now.
“We’re having fun, guys are loose. We don’t really have anything to lose here and we have everything to gain. Texas is ahead of us and Baltimore’s ahead of us in the wild-card race right now. We’re just trying to win as many games as we can and see what happens. We don’t have to look over our shoulder and see if somebody’s chasing us.”
And make no mistake, the Rangers are definitely looking chased.
Texas has lost six of its last seven games and this time took a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth - and blew it immediately. Edgar Martinez opened the Seattle rally with a one-out double and Jay Buhner followed with a routine ground ball that shortstop Kevin Elster booted.
Rangers starter Ken Hill (15-10), who beat the M’s 7-0 in the ALCS last year for Cleveland, then walked Mark Whiten and hit Paul Sorrento with a pitch to force in a run. Hollins, who had a two-run single to break open Monday night’s game, then drilled a ground ball that Sorrento had to hurdle and plated two more runs. A sacrifice fly by Dan Wilson made it 4-2.
“You want to answer if you can,” said M’s manager Lou Piniella of the back-at-you rally. “You want to get the momentum right back on your side - and then keep it there.”
The Mariners managed to do that despite some shaky moments for Charlton and Jackson - but the momentum that meant the most may have been generated at the outset by Mulholland.
The 33-year-old lefthander retired the first 15 Texas batters before Mark McLemore opened the sixth with sharp single past a diving Hollins at third. A two-out triple by Darryl Hamilton off Whiten’s glove in left and a single by Ivan Rodriguez snapped a string of 29 consecutive scoreless innings by Seattle pitchers.
“I felt great out there,” Mulholland said. “The first five innings, I basically felt like I could throw any pitch Danny put down. I was spotting the fastball, I was throwing the curve for strikes and the changeup was a very effective pitch for me.”
For that, he can thank Jamie Moyer - who with help from Ayala shut out the Rangers on Monday night.
“It was obvious last night that the changeup was a very effective pitch for him,” Mulholland said. “We worked that into the game tonight and it was a big help, particularly with their bigger hitters.”
The M’s have now bewildered the Rangers with two lefties after the A.L. West leaders came to Seattle with the league’s best record against lefthanders - 22-11.
Mulholland was unfazed at being pulled by Piniella in the seventh after throwing just 75 pitches, but seemed slightly disappointed at losing his no-hitter.
“I was trying,” he said. “I threw a no-hitter in ‘90 against the Giants. It would have been nice to get a perfect game tonight and get a no-hitter and a perfect one in two different leagues, but I’m no Jim Bunning.
“You can’t help but think about it after you’ve gone out there for five innings. If you don’t realize you haven’t given up a hit, then you’re not in the ballgame - but my job tonight was to do all I could to pick up my teammates and try to win a ballgame.”
Another lefthander, Sterling Hitchcock (12-8) faces Texas righthander Bobby Witt (15-10) in tonight’s game, with Bob Wolcott (7-10) and Roger Pavlik (15-8) going in Thursday’s matinee.
Seattle is 8-3 against the Rangers this year, and has now won 18 of the last 21 games the two teams have played in the Kingdome. , DataTimes