ARLINGTON, Texas – Much has changed in the 3½ months since the Mariners and Rangers last saw each other.
That was way back at the beginning of June. Remember?
You could be forgiven if you’d forgotten. The Mariners could be, too.
And, yes, they’ll want to quickly erase from their memory whatever that was that happened Friday night in a deflating 8-5 loss to the Rangers at Globe Life Field in the opener of a three-game series that will go a long way in determining the final AL West picture.
The Rangers built an 8-0 lead through five innings, then held on through a nervous finish with their maligned bullpen.
The Mariners loaded the bases in the ninth inning off Aroldis Chapman, but Texas rookie third baseman Josh Jung made a diving stop to rob Ty France of a hit for the game’s final out, stranding the bases loaded.
“These two teams are going to swing at each other here for the next week and a half – that’s just what’s going to happen,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The games are going to go back and forth, and you’re never out of the game. I give our guys credit. We battled back after a rocky start … and you’ve just got to keep believing.”
At 85-68, the Rangers moved into first place in the division for the first time since Aug. 29, with the Mariners (84-69) falling a full game back with nine games remaining. Houston (85-69) lost at home to Kansas City on Friday night.
Mariners rookie Bryce Miller was ineffective in his second road start against the Rangers, allowing six runs (all earned) in 4⅓ innings.
Corey Seager hit a solo homer in the first inning and rookie Evan Carter added a three-run blast in the second to give Texas an early 4-0 lead.
Texas added four more runs in the fifth inning.
“They’ve got a really good offense,” Servais said. “There’s no question about it, and you’re going to have to score some runs.”
The Rangers’ offensive onslaught was reminiscent of their three-game sweep of the Mariners here in early June, when the Rangers outscored the Mariners 30-9.
At the time, the Rangers were one of the hottest teams in baseball, and they looked poised to run away with the AL West title.
The Mariners were in a tailspin at the time, with a 29-30 record and a 9½-game deficit in the division.
But from July 1 to Sept. 1, the Mariners emerged as one of the hottest teams in baseball, jumping back into the division race and making a second straight postseason appearance a real possibility.
They’ll needed a bounce-back performance over the weekend to keep pace – and they’ll need more from their offense early.
The Mariners’ offense struggled from the start against Texas starter Dane Dunning, who held the Mariners hitless through four innings, facing only one batter over the minimum.
Servais lamented that Seattle’s hitters strayed away from the game plan of working some counts against Dunning, who had walked eight batters in his three previous September starts.
“We’ve got to do a better job staying with our game plan to start the game,” Servais said.” I think we got away from that tonight.”
Dunning needed just eight pitches to retire the top of the Mariners’ lineup in the first inning.
What, Servais was asked, made Mariners hitters get away from their plan?
“I think understanding that, you know, Dunning lives on the edges. He’s not going to overpower you,” Servais said. “And sometimes those (hitters), you maybe go a little too hard. You see the ball good; you want to go after it and put a big swing on it. And, again, he does what he does and he executed, and we got away from our plan a little bit.”
Down 8-0, the Mariners mounted a rally in the sixth inning.
J.P. Crawford led off the inning with an infield single, Julio Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and Cal Raleigh turned on a changeup from Dunning and sent it 419 feet out to right field.
It was Raleigh’s 30th homer of the season, cutting the Mariners’ deficit to 8-3 and soon forcing the Rangers to turn to their bullpen.
Josh Rojas later drew a bases-loaded walk to bring in another run for the Mariners, prompting another call to the Texas bullpen, which had blown 13 of its last 16 save chances coming into the series.
But Andrew Heaney came in and got Crawford to ground out on the first pitch to end the inning, stranding the bases loaded.
Jarred Kelenic reached base in all five of his plate appearances. He had the Mariners’ first hit, a double, off Dunning in the fifth inning, and he walked four times – the first Mariner to have four walks and a hit in a game since Edgar Martinez did it at Texas on June 24, 2004.”