By Scott Johnson, The Sports Xchange
SEATTLE — What appeared to be a three-run homer off the bat of Seattle’s Mitch Haniger turned out to be a long single that provided the go-ahead run for the Mariners, and that was enough on a Friday night when veteran Felix Hernandez was back at the top of his game.
Hernandez threw 7 1/3 quality innings, while Haniger provided the game-winning hit on what was originally ruled a home run but was later changed to an RBI single in the Mariners’ 2-1 win over the Texas Rangers.
With runners on first and third in the bottom of the seventh inning, Haniger hit a towering fly ball toward the left-field fence. The ball bounced off the top of the wall and was initially ruled a three-run homer. A replay challenge resulted in that call being overturned, but the run from third base scored on what became an RBI single, giving Seattle (3-8) a 2-1 lead.
“I hit it pretty good, but I really didn’t know,” Haniger said. “I’ll take it.”
Two runs were enough for Hernandez, who allowed just one run on six hits over 7 1/3 innings. Hernandez (1-1) struck out three without issuing a walk before the Seattle bullpen took over in the eighth. Lefty Marc Rzepczynski got the final two outs of the eighth before Mariners closer Edwin Diaz came on and earned his second save of the season with a scoreless ninth.
The Rangers threatened in the ninth after Diaz struck out the first two batters he faced. Shortstop Elvis Andrus singled to left on a 1-2 count and moved to third base on a stolen base and wild pitch, but he was stranded there when Jonathan Lucroy grounded out to end the game.
Hernandez’s success came despite his reliance on a fastball that has lost a few miles per hour from the prime of his career. Having faced the Rangers 50 previous times, Hernandez knew that the Texas hitters would be sitting on his changeup and breaking balls.
“It was a little different than what he’s shown this season,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said. “A lot more fastballs. He came right out and challenged our guys. … He’s a very savvy pitcher; that’s why he’s the ace that he is.”
Said Hernandez: “I think they were just looking for breaking balls. I’ve thrown a lot of changeups against them. So I threw fastballs and got them out.”
Haniger went 2-for-4 despite having what would have been his third home run of the season taken away. Teammate Nelson Cruz added a solo home run, his first of the season.
Leadoff hitter Carlos Gomez had a pair of hits for Texas (4-6).
Cruz’s two-out homer gave Seattle a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth. He hit a 3-2 pitch from Texas starter Martin Perez over the center-field fence.
“The first one’s important, especially to get the lead,” he said. “It was nice to get the W.”
Texas tied the score 1-1 on Nomar Mazara’s RBI single in the top of the sixth.
Hernandez retired the first seven Texas hitters before Joey Gallo provided the first Rangers hit with a one-out double into the left-center-field gap in the third. Hernandez threw five scoreless innings to open the game.
The Rangers’ Perez was nearly as good over three shutout innings, thanks in part to double plays in the first and second innings. He had Texas in a scoreless tie until the Cruz homer. Seattle loaded the bases after that but could not capitalize, as catcher Mike Zunino struck out to end the threat.
Perez allowed one run off six hits over five innings while issuing four walks.
“I would say it was more grinding than anything else,” Banister said of Perez’s start.
Jose Leclerc (0-1) took the loss.
Haniger ‘s single off the top of the wall came after teammates Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia led off the seventh with back-to-back singles
“You could clearly see (in replays) that it hit the top of the wall and stayed in the ballpark,” Banister said.
Haniger said he was just trying to get a sacrifice fly to bring in the run from third.
“I’ve got Robbie (Cano) and Cruz hitting behind me, and we know they can drive in runs, so I was just trying to do my job,” he said. “Just keep it simple.”