SEATTLE — Once again, the Seattle Mariners were bedeviled by the final 90 feet between third base and home plate for much of Saturday evening.
They put the first two runners on in the first inning. They never moved.
Raul Ibañez started the second with a single. Never moved. A walk and a single in the fifth had two Mariners on with nobody out. No one crossed the plate.
Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez was behind because of a mistake he made and one by Jesus Montero, who found redemption later in the game.
The Mariners’ offense spent much of the night as a simmering pot refusing to boil over. Finally, in the sixth, Montero smashed a two-run home run to left-center field, and Kendrys Morales’ pinch-hit single in the seventh drove home the winning run in an incremental 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
Before Montero’s homer, his second of the season, the Mariners left runners on base every inning.
With two on and nobody out in the fifth, Dustin Ackley bunted despite owning an eight-game hitting
streak during which he’s batting .414. That produced an out at third base.
A walk to Kyle Seager loaded the bases, but Michael Morse struck out and Justin Smoak popped out. The Mariners are hitting .058 with the bases loaded this season.
Chris Iannetta — 0-for-8 in his career against Hernandez entering the game — torqued a first-pitch slider to left-center field for a third-inning homer to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.
Montero then helped the Angels score a second run in the inning when his errant throw to second to get a stealing Peter Bourjos skipped into center field. Bourjos zipped on to third base and scored on Mike Trout’s sacrifice fly to right.
Hernandez tried to counter the Mariners’ black-cat run in the fourth. Los Angeles put on a hit-and-run with Howie Kendrick, whose grounder hit Hernandez in the right calf. That collision rerouted a would-be double-play ball to a hole between Brendan Ryan and Ackley for a single.
With Mark Trumbo, who had walked, on third as a result, Brendan Harris tried a safety squeeze. Hernandez charged, fielded and then flipped the ball with his glove to Montero to cut down Trumbo. Iannetta flied out to end the inning.
Trumbo is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and Montero gamely stuck out his leg to thwart the oncoming dump truck and handle Hernandez’s glove toss.
“This guy is huge,” Montero said. “Those moments are scary.”
That out sent Hernandez (3-2) on a dominant run. He retired 14 consecutive batters to finish his eight suffocating innings in typical fashion. His ERA is down to 1.90, and his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is 0.96 after allowing five hits and one earned run.
Saturday night’s mastery produced Hernandez’s first win against the Angels (9-14) since Sept. 6, 2011. Hernandez was 0-3 with a 6.25 ERA against them last season.
“It’s been awhile since I beat those guys,” Hernandez said.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge opted for switch-hitting Morales instead of Ibañez against left-hander Michael Roth in the seventh. Morales was getting a scheduled day off before being summoned and coming through for Seattle (10-16).
His single to drive in Seager, who extended his hitting streak to 16 games, made Mariners pinch-hitters 5-for-13 (.385) this season.
Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth for his seventh save. Hernandez, who iced his elbow, shoulder and lower back after the game, had thrown 95 pitches.
It was just enough to stave off another no-decision or loss for Hernandez despite exquisite pitching.
“I want Felix to win,” Montero said. “I want the team to win. We’re having a hard time scoring runs, but I give them a little help so we can win the game tonight.”firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @Todd_Dybas