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No need for perfection

Homers back Hernandez in M’s seventh straight win

SEATTLE – A sea of yellow T-shirt-clad fans saw their dream of another Felix Hernandez perfect game end just one batter in.

But by the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s contest, it was another Hernandez – Cleveland Indians starter Roberto Hernandez – who had a no-hitter of his own going. That was the kind of nail-biter this would be until late, when some power swings by the Mariners once again made the difference in what became a 5-1 rout by the home side.

The Mariners didn’t notch their first hit of the night until Eric Thames launched a two-out solo homer to right field to snap a scoreless tie in the fifth. Then, after the Indians tied it off Hernandez in the seventh, John Jaso and Jesus Montero went to work in the bottom of the inning.

Jaso put the Mariners in front for good with a ground-rule double walloped over the wall in left-center on one hop. Then, after reliever Esmil Rogers entered the game, Montero electrified the crowd of 39,204 at Safeco Field with a line drive over the left-field wall for a three-run homer that blew the game wide open.

Hernandez worked through 7 2/3 innings, striking out five and allowing just the one run, as the Mariners won their seventh straight game overall and their 14th in 15 tries at home. Seattle moved to within four games of .500 overall and improved to 23-13 since the All-Star break.

The lively crowd, the biggest at Safeco in over two months, stood and cheered Hernandez as he walked in from the Mariners’ bullpen before the game.

But the fans’ dream of seeing him pitch another no-hitter quickly vanished as Jason Kipnis lined an 0-2 pitch past a diving Justin Smoak for a leadoff single. The Indians had four hits the first three innings, but Hernandez escaped further trouble with a pair of double-play grounders to end the first and third.

Meanwhile, Indians counterpart Roberto Hernandez – who used to go by the name Fausto Carmona – kept the Mariners in check as well, carrying a no-hitter into the fifth before Thames took him deep. Thames has hit two big home runs in as many nights for a Mariners club that isn’t amassing all that many hits against Cleveland pitching.

But the Indians tied it up off Felix Hernandez in the seventh as Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley hit a pair of one-out singles. Casey Kotchman then hit a potential double-play grounder to shortstop Brendan Ryan, but the ball took a bad hop at the last instant and scooted into center field for a tying single.

Things could have been worse for the Mariners after Hernandez airmailed a pickoff attempt at second base into center field, sending lead runner Brantley to third. The Indians tried for a suicide squeeze, but Brent Lillibridge had no chance at a pitch that broke down and off the plate.

Brantley was halfway to home when Lillibridge pulled the bat up and the Mariners eventually tagged him out in a rundown. Lillibridge struck out to end the inning.

The Indians were outhitting the Mariners 7-1 despite the 1-1 score by the time the bottom of the seventh began. But the Mariners quickly broke the tie on a leadoff walk by Michael Saunders, a single to right by Kyle Seager and then the Jaso double.

Montero came up next and obliterated a 3-1 pitch. Left fielder Lillibridge barely moved as the ball cleared the left-field wall and put things seemingly out of reach.

But the Indians made it interesting in the eighth with a runner reaching on a Ryan error, a single, and then a long fly ball to the right field warning track that was hauled in by Thames at the base of the wall. Hernandez was pulled after that, and Lucas Luetge came in to get the inning’s final out.

The crowd feted Hernandez with another long, loud ovation as he left the field, his latest victory all-but-secured in a season starting to get interesting for his team as well.