SEATTLE – The Felix Hernandez-Cliff Lee 1-2 punch still exists, although it was difficult for the Seattle Mariners to feel anything but punched Saturday night.
One day after Hernandez overwhelmed the Texas Rangers with seven no-hit innings and a three-hit victory, Lee dusted off the Mariners at Safeco Field.
He held them to six hits in eight innings of a 6-1 victory in his first game against the Mariners since they traded him to the Rangers July 9.
“Any time he’s on the other side, you know you’ve got a tough game in front of you,” said Mariners manager Daren Brown, who didn’t experience Lee on his side earlier this season. Brown got his job on an interim basis Aug. 9 after manager Don Wakamatsu was fired.
From late April to early July, the Hernandez-Lee tandem was one of the few good things going for the Mariners. They combined to go 14-8 before the Mariners, out of contention in the American League West and knowing they could lose Lee in the offseason to free agency, traded him to the first-place Rangers for rookie first baseman Justin Smoak and three minor leaguers.
As if the timing couldn’t have been more peculiar, Smoak was recalled from Class AAA Tacoma and started Saturday against Lee.
Smoak got the Mariners’ first ringing hit, a line drive up the middle that nearly undressed Lee to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. When Josh Bard followed with a double to right-center field that put runners on second and third with nobody out, it gave the Mariners a chance to slice into the Rangers’ 3-0 lead.
Instead, Lee schooled three young hitters at the bottom of the order – striking out Matt Tuiasosopo and getting Michael Saunders and Josh Wilson to pop up.
“Cliff Lee, that’s kind of what he does,” Brown said. “I thought that was the one chance for us to maybe make it a one-run game.”
The Rangers showed how to get productive hits, especially with two outs.
Michael Young’s single with two outs in the third inning broke a scoreless tie against Mariners starter Jason Vargas.
Jeff Francoeur’s two-run single with one out in the fourth made the score 3-0 before Bengie Molina delivered a two-run, two-out single in the sixth for a 5-0 Rangers lead. David Murphy added another two-out RBI in the seventh with a single to center off reliever Brian Sweeney.
The Mariners’ only productive hit off Lee was Franklin Gutierrez’s solo home run in the seventh.
Ichiro Suzuki had two hits and is now seven away from 200 for the 10th straight season.