Mathematically, the Seattle Mariners weren’t eliminated Tuesday night from the postseason hunt after a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
It just felt like it.
This was a game the Mariners had to win to keep hope alive.
They had Felix Hernandez on the mound. Not only does the King typically own the Angels — he has given up two earned runs in 27 innings this year in four previous starts — but the Angels also ran out Nick Tropeano, who spent much of the summer getting battered at an ERA clip of 5.22 at Triple-A Salt Lake in the Pacific Coast League.
It didn’t go to form. Hernandez gave up homers to David Murphy and Mike Trout. And that was enough.
“I had good stuff,” Hernandez said. “Good fastball. Good breaking ball. It was one of those games. I gave up two homers, and we lost the game.”
Murphy’s homer really stung. He golfed a first-pitch change-up with two runners on base in the third inning. The ball had just enough carry — just enough — to reach the top of the right-field wall and skip over it.
“I was a little surprised (it got out),” Hernandez said. “It hit the yellow line and it was the backspin (that took it over). Yeah, I was a little surprised.”
There was no surprise on Trout’s homer in the sixth, which provided the eventual winning run. It was a boomer to center on an mislocated 0-2 fastball.
“They took advantage early in the game,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “(Hernandez) left some balls over the plate, and they didn’t miss it. Those kinds of days happen. You just get ready for tomorrow.”
One problem: There might not be enough tomorrows remaining to matter.
The Mariners fell to 70-76 with 16 games to go and trail Houston by 7 1/2 games for the American League’s final wild card spot. (Yes, Houston; the Astros surrendered first place in the AL West by losing Tuesday at now-first place Texas.)
Also worth noting: The Mariners’ 76 losses are one more than they had a year ago, when they remained in the postseason hunt until midway through the season’s final game.
Hernandez (17-9) was attempting to become the AL’s first 18-game winner. He can still reach 20 for the first time in his career by winning his final three starts.
Tropeano (2-2) lasted just five innings but handed a 4-2 lead to reliever Jose Alvarez. While Tropeano wobbled at times, the Mariners couldn’t take advantage.
“We let it get away from us in a couple of innings,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I thought it was a good matchup for us. I thought he was a guy we should score some runs off of.”
The Angels closed out Tropeano’s victory with one inning apiece from Alvarez, Fernando Salas, Trevor Gott and Joe Smith.
“It’s obviously a tough night (when facing Hernandez),” LA manager Mike Scioscia said. “The first thing we talked about that you have to do is pitch with him.
“I think, even though Nick was on the edge a couple of times, once he got the lead, he held it. It’s going to be tough against Felix. He’s always tough, but we pitched well enough to hold the lead.”
The Mariners opened the scoring on Nelson Cruz’s two-out homer in the first inning. He belted a a hanging slider over the center-field wall for his 42nd homer of the season.
The blast pulled Cruz back into a tie with former Baltimore teammate Chris Davis for the major league lead.
The game turned in the third.
Hernandez began the inning by nicking David Freese with a pitch that, for some reason, prompted a warning from umpire Alan Porter. Carlos Perez followed with an infield single on a slow grounder to short.
Taylor Featherston struck out by missing a two-strike bunt before Murphy cleared the right-field wall for a 3-1 lead.
The Mariners got one run back in the fourth on a gift.
With Seth Smith on first with one out, Franklin Gutierrez lined a single that Murphy cut off in the gap — even as third-base coach Rich Donnelly waved Smith home.
It should have been an easy out, but shortstop Erick Aybar took the throw, spun — and threw to second. Smith scored. From first. On a single to left.
The Angels answered with Trout’s leadoff homer in the sixth on an 0-2 fastball. That turned into the winning run when Gutierrez started the seventh with a homer against Salas.