July 16, 2010 in Sports

Weaver wins battle of aces

Another loss for Mariners
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

ANAHEIM, Calif. — With Cliff Lee gone to Texas, Felix Hernandez is now the unchallenged leader of the Mariners’ staff, their ace without peer.

And Hernandez pitched like an ace on Friday — not by being his usual overpowering self, but by gutting his way through eight innings with less than his best stuff.

As an added bonus, the Mariners got a two-run homer from Justin Smoak, their prime return from the Rangers in the Lee deal.

But it all added up to a common result: Another loss, 3-2, to the Angels at Angel Stadium. The Mariners have lost 11 of their last 13.

Hernandez gave up 10 hits and struck out just three (matching his season low, in a game in which he lasted only 3-1/3 innings), but still managed his fifth complete game. As out-of-sync as he appeared at times, he didn’t issue a walk.

The Angels had their ace, All-Star Jered Weaver, matched against Hernandez for the third time this year, and Weaver got the victory.

Weaver came out ahead both previous times while limiting the Mariners to an unearned run over 14-1/3 innings. Hernandez had a 6.35 earned-run average in those two starts, both Angels victories.

Weaver blanked the Mariners for six more innings on Friday. Staked to a 3-0 lead, he seemed to be breezing to another easy win until the seventh.

Smoak, who entered the game 1 for 12 with six strikeouts in his first three games as a Mariner, made Weaver squirm a bit with his blow to deep right-center field in the seventh.

“We know he’s going to be a good hitter. We just have to be patient,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said of Smoak before the game.

Patience rewarded. After getting a sharp single in the second, Smoak unloaded a two-run, two-out, two-strike homer off Weaver to end the Angels pitcher’s streak of 21 innings without allowing an earned run to Seattle this season.

Hernandez battled to keep the Mariners close.

The Angels, after wasting a one-out double by Howie Kendrick in the first, got a leadoff double by Hideki Matsui in the second. But when Mike Napoli’s hard grounder went off third baseman Jose Lopez’s glove, Matsui ill-advisedly took off for third, and Lopez scrambled to tag him for the first out.

The Angels went on to get back-to-back singles by Juan Rivera and Kevin Frandsen for a run, but again ran themselves into an out. Frandsen tried to stretch his hit into a double and was tagged out after oversliding the bag. Hernandez got a comebacker for the third out.

The Angels added two more runs in the third. Hernandez hit Aybar on an 0-2 pitch and gave up a double off the right-center wall to Kendrick. Bobby Abreu delivered an RBI single, and another run came home when Torii Hunter hit into a double play.

But Hernandez, who didn’t have his usual explosive fastball, nevertheless blanked the Angels over the next five innings.

Weaver, however, was handcuffing the Mariners yet again until Smoak smote. Through six, they got just one runner to second — Jack Wilson in the third inning with one out, on a single and wild pitch. But he didn’t get any farther.

Then, in the seventh, Franklin Gutierrez led off with a single off Weaver. With one out, he stole second, but Casey Kotchman flied out for the second out. Smoak fell behind 1-2 before dropping a towering drive over the right-field wall.

But that was the end of the Mariners scoring, as Fernando Rodney pitched the eighth and Brian Fuentes worked the ninth for his 17th save.

The teams play again at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, with Ryan Rowland-Smith (1-9) trying to get his second victory for Seattle. He’ll be opposed by Joe Saunders (6-9).

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