Bullpen lets Felix’s lead slip away

ANGELS 4, MARINERS 3: Torii Hunter’s RBI single off reliever Stephen Pryor in ninth gives Los Angeles comeback victory

September 27, 2012 

ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Torii Hunter’s RBI singles tied the game in the seventh inning and ended it in the ninth as the Los Angeles Angels rallied to keep pace in the American League wild-card race with their fifth consecutive victory, 4-3, over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.

Erick Aybar had an early two-run double before Hunter ended it for the Angels (86-69), who remained two games behind Oakland (88-67) after the other three teams in the AL wild-card race all won earlier in the day.

Pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis opened the ninth with a single off Stephen Pryor (3-1) and advanced to third on a wild pitch and Peter Bourjos’ bunt. Seattle walked rookie Mike Trout to face Hunter, who coolly stroked a single to center.

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez threw 103 pitches in six innings and left with a 3-2 lead. He allowed five hits and two walks, and he struck out nine.

SMOAK’S SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER

Asked about the September first baseman Justin Smoak has had and what it means, Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge grew animated Wednesday.

“It’s a big deal,” Wedge said. “Smoak is a power-hitting switch-hitter, a good-fielding first baseman, but he has to produce. You watch what he’s done the last two, three weeks, it’s because of some fundamental changes.

“When he turns on a 95 mph fastball and hits it out left-handed, there’s not much more you can ask of him,”

On Tuesday night, Smoak continued his sizzling month by hitting a home run from each side of the plate – the first time he’s done that in the majors.

“I’ve done it before, and had the opportunity to do it more often,” Smoak said. “A lot of times I’d hit one out early in the game, and try to hit one later in the game, and that just doesn’t work for me. I hit them when I’m not trying.”

Smoak began the game Wednesday batting .362 with nine runs, four doubles, four home runs and eight RBI in 18 September games. That has pulled his season average from .189 to .212, given him a share of the team home run lead (18) and pushed him to 48 RBI.

“This hasn’t been a good season, but I’ve put in a lot of work,” said Smoak, who also homered against the Angels on Wednesday night. “Where I’m at now, I feel like I can continue this right through the offseason and into next year. The frustration is, I’ve finally got things worked out and I keep wondering, ‘Why couldn’t I have figured it out five months ago?’

“You look at my at-bats, I’m squaring the ball up, even with my outs. Before, I’d get a pitch to hit and either pop it up or foul it off.”

SCOUTING CHANGE

General manager Jack Zduriencik announced that Tom Allison has been hired as director of professional scouting.

Allison comes with more than 18 years of scouting experience, most recently as the midwest regional cross-checker for the Boston Red Sox. Allison spent four years as director of scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks .

A former professional infielder and coach in the Mets’ organization, Allison, 45, is a Northwest native, having grown up in the Vancouver, Wash., area.

SHORT HOPS

Michael Saunders wasn’t in the starting lineup for the second consecutive game following the birth of his first child in Colorado. He arrived in Anaheim late Wednesday and will be in the lineup today. … If you think it seems like the Mariners win or lose only by one run this season, there’s a reason – the team has won 25 one-run games and lost 27. That’s just over a third of their games. … Seattle’s lineup Wednesday was its 135th different one of the season, coming in Game No. 155.

Staff writer Larry LaRue contributed to this report.

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