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Iwakuma stumbles as Mariners fall back

Angels rough up righty; Wild Card deficit grows to two

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ANAHEIM -- Hisashi Iwakuma has been dominant for most of his three seasons in Seattle, but the Japanese standout has picked a bad time to hit a rough patch. The right-hander was rocked for seven runs in 3 1/3 innings on Monday night by a red-hot Angels club that handed the Mariners an 8-1 loss.

The Mariners fell two games off the pace in the race for the American League's second Wild Card spot as they stumbled out of the gate at the start of a rugged 11-game road trip, while the Angels clinched a playoff berth with the victory as they won for the 11th time in their last 12 games and improved to an MLB-leading 94-56.

Iwakuma gave up a career-high seven runs on six hits with two walks in his abbreviated start. The 2013 All-Star has allowed 22 runs in 21 1/3 innings over his last five starts as his ERA has climbed from 2.57 to 3.42 with a 14-8 record.

"My balance in general, upper body and lower body are not linking right now," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I need to make an adjustment. All is never perfect, but I'm usually able to make the adjustment. Not being able to make the adjustment, I'm not able to execute pitches when I need to, and that's what I need to do from here on.

"I want to help the team win, and today I failed."

Iwakuma was perfect through the first 2 2/3 innings and remained deadlocked in a scoreless duel with Angels rookie standout Matt Shoemaker until loading the bases and then losing a tough duel to Albert Pujols in a great at-bat in the third.

Pujols fouled off four 0-2 pitches before looping a double into left field to score three runs. Pujols injured his left hamstring running to second base, hobbling into the bag and then immediately coming out of the game with what later was diagnosed as a cramp.

Pujols is expected to be fine, but it remains to be seen what kind of shape the Mariners are in after a tough loss that seemed to spiral south after his big hit.

"I've seen Albert do that time and time again," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "That's why he's a future Hall of Famer. I thought that at-bat really wore on Kuma and he never recovered after that. … He made great pitches and a great hitter had a great at-bat."

"It was a tough at-bat," Iwakuma said. "I wanted to be aggressive, attack and get ahead early. And I was able to do that. He kept fighting off everything I threw and got his barrel to the ball and it was just a good piece of hitting. It was a split down in the zone."

Both McClendon and catcher Mike Zunino said Iwakuma was extremely sharp to start the game until he walked No. 9 hitter Efren Navarro and got into trouble, with Pujols applying the big blow.

"That's a mentally draining at-bat," Zunino said. "When that doesn't go your way, you've put everything on the line and just happened to not make one pitch."

Howie Kendrick followed with an RBI double to make it 4-0 in an inning where Iwakuma initially got into trouble by walking two batters. He'd never walked more than two batters in an entire game this season.

The Angels didn't let off the gas as David Freese led off the fourth with a home run and Iwakuma was lifted after a pair of singles sandwiched around his lone out of that frame. Both those runners wound up scoring off reliever Dominic Leone and were charged to Iwakuma, with the seven runs exceeding his previous career-high of six in two different games in 2013.

Iwakuma had been tough on the Angels throughout his three seasons in Seattle, going 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in eight previous games (seven starts) and Pujols was 3-for-23 (.132) with no RBIs against him until his bases-loaded double.

"We just had really good at-bats," said Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun, who sandwiched a single between the two walks to load the bases. "We got him up in the strike zone and got some good pitches to hit, and Albert has the huge AB with the bases loaded and pulls that ball down the line. That's the breakthrough on that guy. He's kind of been an Angel killer in the past."

With Kansas City rallying for a walk-off win over the White Sox, the Mariners (80-69) find themselves two back of the Royals (82-67) for the final playoff spot with 13 games remaining.

The Mariners woes weren't limited to Iwakuma, as the offense saw its scoreless streak reach 19 innings, dating back to the seventh inning of Saturday's 10-inning loss to the A's, until finally crossing the plate in the eighth inning against Shoemaker.

The 27-year-old right-hander held Seattle to just five hits over 7 2/3 innings to improve to 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA.

"We haven't been good offensively for quite a while," McClendon said. "It's a little bit of a concern. I'm not sure what's going on, but we need to get a big hit somewhere to get us jump-started."

First baseman Logan Morrison went 2-for-3 with a double and scored Seattle's lone run on an infield ground out by Humberto Quintero in the eighth.

"We have to better obviously, but we will," said Morrison. "This is a good one to forget about and come back and get them tomorrow."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners look to derail Angels in Anaheim

Seattle's AL Wild Card chase continues as Elias faces Rasmus

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Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias gets the ball for the Mariners on Tuesday at Angel Stadium for his third start this season against the Halos. He'll be tasked with snapping Seattle's three-game losing streak against an Angels team with 11 wins in 12 days.

The Mariners entered Tuesday trailing the Royals by two games in the race for the second American League Wild Card spot, while the Angels are the first team to secure a postseason berth and have a magic number of three to top the A's in the race for the AL West title.

Though manager Lloyd McClendon has been careful with Elias' innings count, the 26-year-old is 3-4 with a 2.08 ERA over nine starts since July 21. He lost twice to the Angels in the first two months of the season (0-2, 5.56 ERA) but hasn't seen them since.

McClendon said Monday that veteran right-hander Chris Young has been the club's biggest surprise this year, filling a gap created by injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton after signing just before the start of the season, but he doesn't consider Elias a surprise contributor to this year's success.

"He didn't really surprise me. He surprised you guys," McClendon said. "But I knew what I had and I knew what he'd give us. He hasn't disappointed, and he continues to shine."

Elias took the loss in his last outing on Sept. 9 against the Astros, but allowed just six hits and one run in six innings in a 2-1 setback at Safeco Field.

His 160 2/3 innings rank second among all Major League rookies, and the Mariners gave him an extra two days' rest prior to facing the Angels, but he's expected to stay on schedule for his remaining regular-season starts.

The Cuban native said the work load isn't an issue.

"I feel good," Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. "I'm just focused on helping the team to go as far as we can, whether it's the playoffs or not. I'm going to be there and helping out as much as I can."

"We've strategically tried to watch his innings," McClendon said. "We've taken him out of ballgames early. I'm sure he doesn't like it, but we still got to be careful because we're on the edge with him. But he's done a nice job for us."

The same could be said of Angels right-hander Cory Rasmus (3-1, 2.80 ERA), who makes his fourth start of the year -- not to mention his career --- Tuesday night in what will be another bullpen day for the Halos.

Indeed, Rasmus, a reliever, has been forced into a spot starter role after right-hander Garrett Richards suffered a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. In three starts, Rasmus has pitched a combined eight innings but managed to hold opponents to just three runs.

On Tuesday, he'll be asked to throw a maximum of three or four innings.

His last outing, he lasted a career-high 3 1/3 frames and allowed one run in Anaheim's 7-3 win over the Rangers.

Mariners: Angels games loom large
Seattle still has six of its final 13 games of the season against the AL West-leading Angels even after Monday and the Mariners are well aware of the stakes as they fight for their first postseason berth since 2001.

"Every game is important," McClendon said. "But I can't afford to look too far ahead. This is the best team in baseball on the other side of the hallway there. We respect that and we've played well against them and hopefully we'll continue to play well against them. If we pitch well, we'll have a good chance of winning games."

The skipper said he's not seeing anything different from his young group as they hit the stretch run.

"I like this club," he said. "I like their attitude, I like the way they go about their business. They've had the ability all year to shrug off tough losses and continue to play. I don't see why it would be any different now."

Angels: First to clinch
It became likely Monday when first baseman Albert Pujols drove in a three-run double in the third inning, but it didn't become official until the Angels notched an 8-1 win.

With the victory in the series opener, the Halos became the first team in the Major Leagues to clinch a trip to the postseason, but their focus has not shifted. They want the AL West title. Any combination of three Angels wins and A's losses will do the trick. The earliest they can clinch is Wednesday.

"Every game is going to be tough from now until the end of the year" Scioscia said. "We need to keep that focus of going game to game. I think that's what helped us get in this position. I think our guys come out and get after it every day, we're not being distracted by another's team's standings or what their record is."

Worth noting
• When the Mariners were shut out for the 17th time this year in Sunday's 4-0 loss to the A's, they set a club record for most shutouts in a season. The old mark of 16 came in 2011.

• Seattle leads the season series with the Angels 7-6 with six games still to play against their AL West rivals in the final two weeks. The Mariners haven't won a season series with the Angels since going 11-8 against them in 2003.

• Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton could return to the lineup as soon as Wednesday after having what manager Mike Scioscia described as an "incredible" workout Monday.

Hamilton, 33, took batting practice on the field, hit off a tee in the batting cage and ran the bases. He hasn't played since Sept. 4 because of stiffness in his right AC joint (shoulder area) that later shifted to the area around his trapezius muscle.

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners' road success offsets Safeco woes

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ANAHEIM -- As the Mariners open a critical 11-game road trip on Monday that will go a long way toward determining their playoff fate, one overhanging question looms. Why has Seattle been so much better on the road than at home this season?

The Mariners dropped four of six games in their just-completed homestand against the Astros and A's, putting their Safeco Field record at 38-40 with three home games remaining at season's end against the Angels.

But they have the best road record in the American League at 42-28 going into Monday's opener of a four-game set in Anaheim and will wind up with their first winning road record in 11 years even if they lose all 11 games on this final trek, which also includes stops in Houston and Toronto.

The 42 road wins already tie for the sixth-most in franchise history. And while they won't get to the club record 59 set in the 116-win season of 2001, they only need to go 4-7 on this trip to reach 46 and become the second-best Mariners road team ever.

Manager Lloyd McClendon isn't spending a lot of time at this point trying to figure out why his road warriors haven't done as well at Safeco.

"I can't really put my finger on it," McClendon said prior to Monday's game. "I don't have an answer for that. We've played extremely well on the road and haven't played very well at home, and the record is indicative of that. But at this point in the season, it is what it is. There's no sense in trying to analyze it. Take it and run with it. We're out here where we play best, so let's hope we continue to do that."

The obvious difference is Seattle's offense has continued to struggle at Safeco, even with the fences moved in a year ago. The Mariners have put up a .237/.292/.370 line and averaged 3.47 runs per game at home, while they're at .253/.310/.382 with 4.41 runs per game on the road.

Meanwhile, Seattle's stellar pitching has been equally adept everywhere, with a 2.97 ERA at home and 3.02 on the road. Opponents do have a .236 batting average on the road compared to .220 at Safeco, but scoring is almost identical with 3.27 runs on the road and 3.21 at Safeco.

Seattle's two best hitters -- Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager -- certainly haven't been bothered by Safeco Field, in part because the park continues to favor left-handed hitters. Cano has hit .326 with an .842 OPS, five home runs and 42 RBIs on the road compared to .316 with an .865 OPS, nine home runs and 35 RBIs at home.

Seager struggled at Safeco in the past, but this year he's hitting a robust .308 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs in Seattle vs. .240 with seven homers and 35 RBIs on the road.

The biggest negative home/road splits on the club belong to Justin Smoak (.148/.248), Michael Saunders (.228/.299), Kendrys Morales (.176/.244), Brad Miller (.186/.242) and Logan Morrison (.217/.273), though Morrison is an interesting case as he's hit seven of his eight home runs at Safeco.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Ackley returns, hopes to help Mariners down stretch

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ANAHEIM -- After sitting out six of the last seven games with a sore left ankle, Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley was back in action, going 1-for-3 in Monday night's 8-1 loss to the Angels, and he hopes he can continue playing the rest of the stretch run.

Ackley missed four games, then went 0-for-3 in Friday's 4-2 win over the A's before being held out of the final two games of that set. The Mariners went 1-5 in the games he missed and manager Lloyd McClendon hopes the 26-year-old is good enough to go now.

"He needs to be operational," McClendon said. "The fact is, nobody will be 100 percent this time of year. There are going to be nicks and bumps and bruises, but you've got to be able to play both sides of the ball and I think he's capable of doing that.

"I saw his BP and it was cleaner, it was better. He was getting off his backside and not hitting flat-footed, so I think he should be fine."

Ackley said he's back to feeling as good as he has all season with the ankle, which has been somewhat troublesome since 2012 when he needed postseason surgery to remove bone spurs.

"The last couple days I've felt ready," Ackley said. "I know he probably wanted to [use me] as a last resort and didn't do it, but the last two days I felt the best it's felt in a long time and I'm assuming today isn't going to be much different. It's pretty good right now."

Ackley has hit just .045 (1-for-22) in six games in September after batting .318 (61-for-192) in July and August. McClendon believes some of those recent struggles were related to the ankle.

"I think the last couple days where his swing got slow and he wasn't able to catch up to the ball," McClendon said.

Ackley said he'll play the rest of the way as long as he feels he's helping the club.

"Unless it's a situation where like that last game, I was able to play, but I wasn't able to perform like I wanted to or drive off that foot," he said. "As long as I'm able to do that and compete and feel like I'm helping the team out, I'll be in there as much as I can. If I feel like a liability, I'll definitely take that into consideration."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners have tough road ahead

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Mariners have tough road ahead

ANAHEIM -- There's no denying that, of the teams contending for the American League's Wild Card spots, the Mariners have the toughest remaining road schedule, with 11 of their final 14 games away from home.

None of the other contenders have more than seven remaining road games. On top of that, 11 of Seattle's final 14 opponents have winning records. Only Toronto -- which faces 14 of 14 winning teams down the stretch -- has a more-difficult strength of schedule.

Here's how Seattle's primary competition lines up going into Monday's games. Three of these clubs will make the playoffs, with either Kansas City or Detroit winning the AL Central and then two of the remaining teams taking the Wild Card spots.

Detroit (83-66): 7 of 13 remaining games at home, 3 of 13 vs. winning teams.

Kansas City (81-67): 6 of 13 remaining games at home, 6 of 13 vs. winning teams (plus conclusion of suspended game Royals trail 4-2 in bottom of 10th vs. Indians).

Oakland (83-66): 9 of 13 remaining games at home, 3 of 13 vs. winning teams.

Seattle (80-68): 3 of 14 remaining games at home, 11 of 14 vs. winning teams.

Toronto (77-71): 7 of 14 remaining games at home, 14 of 14 vs. winning teams.

Cleveland (76-72): 6 of 13 remaining games at home, 3 of 13 vs. winning teams (plus conclusion of suspended game Indians lead 4-2 in bottom of 10th vs. Royals).

NY Yankees (76-72): 8 of 14 remaining games at home, 8 of 14 vs. winning teams.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Key connections: Star-Spangled Banner, baseball forever linked

Verses that became National anthem celebrates 200 years, is part of baseball's fabric

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Francis Scott Key never got to see a big league baseball game. He died in 1843, some 26 years before the first professional team was established. But you can imagine his joy if he did get that chance. These days, he'd probably sit in a shiny bleacher seat, waiting for a batting-practice homer with a soft, weathered glove raised high ... in his non-writing hand. Maybe he'd inhale a hot dog while jotting down a few pretty lines for his next song. That would come about an hour before he'd hear the iconic bars of his first one, which, contrary to American lore, does not end with the words, "Play Ball." Odds are he'd be pretty happy at the twilight's last gleaming.

This weekend, the celebration of the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," is on, and Key's memory is being rightly feted for his poetic description from the "dawn's early light" of Sept. 14, 1814, at the height of the War of 1812.

Hours after being stuck on a ship in Baltimore Harbor as the British pounded Fort McHenry in the Battle of Baltimore, Key saw the skies clear from the smoke and the indelible image that "our flag was still there."

The verses were called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," and it was put to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven," a British drinking song purportedly written by John Stafford Smith that had been composed more than 30 years earlier and served as the theme of the Anacreontic Society of London, a men's club of amateur musicians.

Soon after Key wrote the words, a local newspaper gave it the title "The Star-Spangled Banner," and in 1931, it became our official anthem. All the while, another grand tradition steeped in collective nostalgia and American togetherness -- the game of baseball -- was steaming along, gaining prominence in our country's conscience.

Not surprisingly, the national anthem and the National Pastime became stitched together forever, like red laces in white horsehide.

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, the playing of the national anthem before big league games did not become an everyday tradition until 1942. Taking that into account (and including a slight margin of error based on the lack of documentation regarding split doubleheaders in the earlier days), the Star-Spangled Banner has been heard right before the first pitch of at least the last 121,000 games. Oh, say can you see, indeed.

So with that in mind, 200 years after the night a 35-year-old Washington, D.C.-based attorney known to friends as Frank found himself under a war-torn sky, with honor in his heart and a pen in his hand, we go around the horn with nine things to know about "The Star-Spangled Banner" and its now-eternal link to the national pastime.

1. A first for everything
The first time the song was played at a baseball game was May 15, 1862, at William Cammeyer's Union Grounds park in Brooklyn. It had been converted from an ice skating venue into a field for summer sports, including what, at the time, was known as "base ball." In the midst of the Civil War, a band played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The first big league Opening Day to feature the eventual anthem took place in Philadelphia on April 22, 1897. The New York Tribune newspaper included a brief and lyrical account of the game: "Opening Day here was a great success. The weather was delightful and the attendance numbered 17,074. The players paraded across the field, company front, and then raised the new flag, while the band played 'The Star Spangled Banner.' "

In spite of all the pageantry, there had to be some accounting for the four errors that led the Phillies to a 5-1 victory over the Giants at the Baker Bowl.

"The game was rather dull and long-drawn out," the article read, "and on the part of the New-Yorkers was somewhat unsteadily played."

2. An unforgettable rendition
The first national anthem played at a World Series game occurred on Sept. 5, 1918, during World War I, when Major League players were in the midst of being drafted into service. The regular season was ordered by the government to be completed by Labor Day, hence the Fall Classic that year was played in September.

The Cubs borrowed Comiskey Park from the White Sox to take advantage of the larger seating capacity, but things got quiet in Game 1, a 1-0 shutout by Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth. But that game will be forever remembered for what occurred in the seventh inning.

That was when the military band on hand struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the song took on a different meaning. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, for example, was on furlough from the Navy, and he saluted the flag during the playing of the song.

And then the crowd caught on. The New York Times opened its account of the game by writing, "Far different from any incident that has ever occurred in the history of baseball was the great moment of the first world's series game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, which came at Comiskey Park this afternoon during the seventh-inning stretch" and then continued with the play-by-play … of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day's enthusiasm."

The Cubs and Red Sox repeated the tradition for the rest of the Series.

3. Making it official
Even though the Secretary of the Navy in 1889 had designated "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the official song to be played at the raising of the flag, and even though President Woodrow Wilson, a huge baseball fan himself, treated it and referred to it as our national anthem, it had failed to stick in Congress after numerous attempts in the 1920s.

Baseball's increased use of the song prior to games, a petition with millions of signatures, and a nice little push from noted composer John Philip Sousa helped finally get the job done on March 3, 1931, when President Herbert Hoover signed into law the establishment of the song as the official national anthem of the United States of America.

4. A lasting tradition
"The Star-Spangled Banner" still wasn't being played before every baseball game in 1941, but on April 26, 1941, the ball got rolling in the Bronx. As The New York Times reported, "With more war new in the making, president Ed Barrow of the Yankees ordered that 'The Star-Spangled Banner' be played before all games at the Stadium.

"Meanwhile, all continued to go well for the Yankees and [Joe] DiMaggio. He singled home a run in the first and scored twice as New York beat Washington 8-3 for its fourth straight victory."

By the following year, with the country deep in World War II, the anthem became the daily staple of baseball that we know today.

And DiMaggio was still hitting.

5. Controversy hits the field
It was October 1968, and the country was fighting in Vietnam and had already lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that year. Protests were boiling over in the streets at home, and the Detroit Tigers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Jose Feliciano was a 23-year-old blind folk singer from Puerto Rico who had scored a hit on the U.S. charts with a cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire," and Tigers radio legend Ernie Harwell invited him to sing the national anthem at Tiger Stadium prior to Game 5.

Feliciano was accompanied in left field by his acoustic guitar and his guide dog, Trudy, and he launched into an emotional, heartfelt, and, well, different version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." He strummed the guitar in a slightly syncopated, Latin-influenced rhythm, careened back and forth from the traditional vocal melody to something more adventurous, and offered the finishing flourish of "Yeah, yeah."

It was bold and innovative and fresh, but it was also many years ahead of its time. Feliciano was booed heartily by the crowd and caused a public uproar that took years to live down.

"Back then, when the anthem was done at ballgames, people couldn't wait for it to be over," Feliciano told The Guardian last month. "And I wanted to make them sit up and take notice and respect the song. I was shocked when I was booed. I felt, 'God, what have I done wrong?' All I was trying to do was create a soulful rendition. I never in my wildest dreams thought I was going to have the country against me, radio stations stop playing me.

"But in part, it was good -- because I ended up meeting my wife. She couldn't understand the injustice and started a fan club, even though we'd never met. We fell in love and the rest is history."

On Oct. 14, 2012, prior to Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the same stylized, heartfelt version of the national anthem was performed by Feliciano on his acoustic guitar.

This time the crowd roared.

6. "O"-dience participation
The anthem itself is a tradition, and at Oriole Park in Camden Yards in Baltimore, there's a tradition baked into the tradition. When the song rounds third base and heads for home with, "O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave," the crowd screams the "O" together, celebrating their beloved O's.

This started at the old Memorial Stadium in the club's pennant-winning season of 1979. Out in Section 34 of the upper deck, Orioles superfan Wild Bill Hagy would lead fans in chants of O-R-I-O-L-E-S, with the emphasis on the "O." Mary Powers sat nearby and took the inspiration to another level.

"We would accentuate the 'O' in any word that would have an 'O,' and one night when they were playing the anthem, I thought, 'There's an 'O!' in this song,' and the first time I did it, I remember people turning around and looking like, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe she just did that,' " Powers recently told WBAL-TV.

"Well, Wild Bill had a little grin on his face, so the next night, he did it with me, and once he put his blessing on it, everybody started to do it."

Orioles fans still do it -- loudly -- and will likely be doing it in October this year.

7. Setting the (low) Barr
We all know now that Feliciano's rendition was eventually respected, if not appreciated. We all also know now that the version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed by comedian Roseanne Barr before a Padres-Reds doubleheader at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego on July 25, 1990, was not.

Barr screeched a fast, off-key rendition of the anthem that drew loud boos midway through, and when she was finished, she grabbed her crotch and spit, as if to mimic a ballplayer. The joke bombed, she was lambasted all over TV and in the newspapers, and she inspired President George H. W. Bush to call the whole act "disgraceful."

Bush's comment was met with bipartisan approval.

8. A hymn of healing
The horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the United States forever, but not only in tragic ways. The courage, brotherhood and human decency shown that day in New York, Washington, D.C., and on a hijacked airplane that would crash in a Pennsylvania field showed our country's strength and will to persevere.

The emotion was palpable 10 days later when the Mets played the Braves at Shea Stadium in the first professional sporting event in New York City since the attacks. Marc Anthony delivered a somber rendition without musical accompaniment and the game was played quietly until the eighth inning, when Piazza's two-run home run gave the Mets the lead and got the crowd going again.

"I remember standing on the line during the national anthem -- actually when the bagpipes and band came out -- I said to myself, 'Please, God, give me the strength to get through this,' " Piazza told the New York Daily News in 2008. "I was fortunate to find the strength to hit a home run in that situation. I'm flattered, I'm honored that people put that moment as a time where it helped the city at least have a little bit of joy in a really tough week."

9. 200 and many more
Every year now, we're treated to incredible musical talent on the baseball field. From the seasoned operatic pipes of longtime Yankees national anthem singer Robert Merrill to commercial acts James Taylor, Paul Simon, Sammy Davis Jr., John Legend, Lyle Lovett, the Grateful Dead, Slash from Guns N' Roses, Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Idina Menzel, Kelly Clarkson and countless others, it's now a grand American tradition to bring out the best in the business to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the biggest baseball games.

But Sunday, the song itself will shine.

At Fort McHenry in Baltimore, a real-time anniversary program will kick off, with artillery salutes, a reading of the song's four stanzas and a replica 15-star, 15-stripe flag raising at precisely 9 a.m. to commemorate the history that Key had witnessed.

And MLB teams playing at home will show a special video montage of "The Star-Spangled Banner." In conjunction with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the program Great Performances, Maryland Public Television has provided the montage originally seen in the PBS production Star-Spangled Banner: The Bicentennial of our National Anthem to the ballparks and to MLB.com and all 30 club websites and official MLB social media channels.

Fittingly, the last game on Sunday will be played at Camden Yards, about three miles away from Fort McHenry, and fittingly, the Orioles will play the Yankees.

We all know what song we'll hear right before the first pitch.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners miss chance to gain ground

Young solid, but Wild Card hopefuls shut down by A's

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Mariners miss chance to gain ground play video for Mariners miss chance to gain ground

SEATTLE -- The Mariners had plenty of opportunities to earn a series win over the Athletics on Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field. Converting was the problem.

The Mariners pressured Oakland ace Jon Lester early and often, putting runners in scoring position in each of the first five innings, which forced the dominant southpaw to leave the game after throwing 110 pitches in six rocky frames. The offense, though, reverted to its season-long struggles to score runs at home, and the Mariners fell to the A's, 4-0.

In their final game before embarking on an 11-game road trip, Seattle got a solid six-plus innings from Chris Young, but went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base. It was the 17th time the Mariners have been shut out this season.

The loss dropped the Mariners to 80-68 on the season and 2-4 on their latest homestand, but it didn't cripple their chances of making the postseason. The Royals lost to the Red Sox on Sunday, so Seattle stayed one game behind Kansas City for the second American League Wild Card berth.

The loss did, however, hurt the Mariners' chances of catching the A's, who they faced for the final time Sunday. With 14 games left in the season, Seattle is now 2 1/2 games behind Oakland for the top AL Wild Card spot.

"I've always said this, and I think it bears out: You start making too much of a series, you get bit in the next one," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "For me, the biggest series is the one before and the one after. Not [this] one. We played well. Obviously, we wanted to take two out of three, and it didn't happen."

The series finale came to a head with the Mariners trailing, 2-0, in the bottom of the seventh inning. Endy Chavez and Logan Morrison, pinch-hitting against A's reliever Dan Otero, led off with singles. A wild pitch advanced them to second and third, but Austin Jackson then grounded out. After Michael Saunders fanned, an intentional walk to Robinson Cano loaded the bases.

Kendrys Morales then flied out to end Seattle's last rally.

"I've always said there's never one thing to make you lose a ballgame," McClendon said. "From the first inning on, we had opportunities and obviously the seventh inning was a big, big big opportunity and we just couldn't cash in."

The Mariners were playing from behind from the start after Young's eventful first inning. He struck out leadoff man Coco Crisp before Sam Fuld hit a home run that cleared the right-field wall by a few feet. Young then fanned Josh Donaldson and Adam Dunn, but the A's had a 1-0 lead.

Young's only other major mistake came when Brandon Moss added a home run to begin the seventh. A Jed Lowrie single later, the 6-foot-10 righty was out of the game. Young (12-8) struck out five and walked two in six-plus innings but lost his first home start since the A's beat him July 13.

"Not good enough. We lost the game," said Young, who is 8-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts at Safeco Field. "Going up against a tough pitcher and he was better than me today. I made a couple mistakes and he didn't."

And Young didn't get much help.

They squandered a chance in the second inning when Justin Smoak walked after Kyle Seager's one-out single. Lester then fanned Chris Taylor and Jesus Sucre.

With two outs in the third, Corey Hart, playing left field for the injured Dustin Ackley, grounded out meekly to first base, leaving Chris Denorfia stranded on third.

In the fourth, Taylor drew a two-out walk and stole second, but Sucre grounded out to end the inning. The fifth ended when Morales struck out with Jackson on second.

"[Lester is] just a tough pitcher," Jackson said after going 2-for-5 and tying a career-high with two stolen bases. When we did get those opportunities, we just weren't able to get that big hit when we needed it."

Oakland added two runs (one earned) in the eighth off Taijuan Walker.

The Mariners are just 38-40 this season at Safeco Field. So maybe it's a good thing 11 of their last 14 games are on the road, where they own an AL best 42-28 record.

"You want to talk about improbable, that's probably as improbable as you can get, so it is what it is," McClendon said. "We haven't been good at home. This was not a good homestand. What the heck are we gonna do? We're going to go on the road and try to win."

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cano's HR rallies Mariners, but A's get final say

Seattle one game behind KC in Wild Card race with loss to Oakland

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Cano's HR rallies Mariners, but A's get final say play video for Cano's HR rallies Mariners, but A's get final say

SEATTLE -- The Mariners got just about everything you'd want Saturday night at Safeco Field. Sellout crowd. Strong outing from Felix Hernandez. Electric atmosphere for a game with postseason implications.

But in the end, the A's spoiled the party with four walks off closer Fernando Rodney in the top of the 10th as they pulled out a 3-2 victory that dropped the Mariners a game back in the American League Wild Card chase.

"That was a tough one," Hernandez said in a quiet Mariners clubhouse. "We battled, but that was tough. That's all I can say."

Rodney, who tied the club record with his 45th save of the season a night earlier, walked the bases loaded with one out in the 10th -- including one intentional pass after the leadoff runner was sacrificed to second -- then struck out Brandon Moss before forcing in the go-ahead run on four straight balls to Jed Lowrie.

"It was tough to find the strike zone," Rodney said. "I was a little bit jumpy on the mound. I don't know why. Maybe it was emotional. I tried my best. It didn't happen. I'll be ready for tomorrow."

The A's had gone 9-22 since Aug. 10, losing their AL West lead and putting their own playoff hopes in jeopardy, but found life Saturday in the robust atmosphere at Safeco.

"It was electric," said A's closer Sean Doolittle, who slammed the door in the 10th for his 21st save. "It was playoff-style atmosphere. Their fans were great. It was really loud all night long, and I think that's part of the reason it's such a big win for us, coming on the road, in such a big atmosphere, with Felix on the mound. It's a huge, huge team win for us."

With AL Central co-leaders Detroit and Kansas City both winning, the Mariners needed a win to secure a grip on one of the Wild Card spots. Instead, the A's held on to the first Wild Card spot at 82-66, a half-game ahead of the Royals (81-66), with Seattle now a game back of Kansas City at 80-67.

The Mariners and A's meet in the final game of the weekend series Sunday before Seattle embarks on an 11-game road trip.

With 15 games to go, the Mariners are fighting for their first postseason appearance since 2001, and Saturday's game had all the drama expected of a playoff push.

The challenge now is to put this one quickly away and move on.

"Every one here is a grown man," said Robinson Cano, one of the few playoff-tested players on the Mariners. "You can't put your head down by one game. We've been in this situation during the season and the beginning of the season. I know now it means more than ever, but I know we've got a great team and we didn't come this far by mistake. We're here because we have the talent and have a great team. We just have to stay together and be ready for tomorrow."

Cano tied the game at 2 with a seventh-inning solo blast to right field, his 14th homer of the season and biggest hit since signing with the Mariners, as it answered Oakland's go-ahead run in the top of the seventh on the first pitch Sonny Gray delivered after being handed the lead.

"It was big because we tied the game," Cano said, "but we lost, so that doesn't mean anything right now."

Pitching in front of a sellout crowd of 43,913 on a "Night Court" at Safeco Field -- with black King's Court T-shirts handed out to the first 35,000 fans -- Hernandez threw seven innings of two-run ball before turning the game over to the bullpen.

"When I came out to warm up, it was really good. The crowd was spectacular," Hernandez said. "The emotions were the same, I just have to go out there and do what I can do to win a game. It's just too bad we lost."

Hernandez has dominated the A's all season, going 4-0 with a 2.22 ERA in six starts, but wound up with a no-decision after allowing seven hits with no walks and eight strikeouts before being pulled after 95 pitches. He remains 14-5 on the season, with a 2.14 ERA that ranks second in the AL behind the 1.99 of the White Sox's Chris Sale.

The A's came out aggressively against Hernandez, with Coco Crisp singling on the first pitch of the game before the next three batters were retired on just four more pitches. Hernandez breezed into the sixth with a shutout until third baseman Josh Donaldson laced a 1-0 pitch over the left-field fence to tie the game at 1.

Oakland then scored the go-ahead run in the seventh when Josh Reddick doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when Eric Sogard lined a single just over the glove of leaping shortstop Chris Taylor.

"I felt pretty good," Hernandez said. "They had a different approach today. They came out swinging and I just had to make good pitches. It was a good game."

Right fielder James Jones tripled off the center-field wall leading off the third, and later scored on a single by fellow rookie Taylor to give the Mariners an early 1-0 lead. But that turned out to be the only lead of the night for Seattle in a taut game that ultimately turned on Lowrie's four-pitch walk.

"He's got such a good changeup and such good velocity on his fastball, I'm not going up looking for a walk," Lowrie said. "I'm going up looking for a good pitch to hit, and I never got it."

That sent the Mariners' second-largest crowd of the season home on an unhappy note, but manager Lloyd McClendon said their efforts were heard.

"I thought the fans were great," McClendon said. "Listen, this is a grind. We have 15 games left now and this schedule is grueling, the travel is grueling, the whole nine yards. And I thought our fans were great tonight, and they really uplifted the players. We just couldn't get the big hit to put us over the top."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners' challenge ends Athletics' rally threat

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Mariners' challenge ends Athletics' rally threat play video for Mariners' challenge ends Athletics' rally threat

SEATTLE -- A safe call at second base was overturned in the Mariners-Athletics game Saturday night at Safeco Field after Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon challenged the on-field ruling.

With two outs in the top of the ninth inning and Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar facing Oakland's Coco Crisp, A's second baseman Eric Sogard, the potential go-ahead run in a 2-2 game, broke for second.

Catcher Mike Zunino's throw to shortstop Chris Taylor was close, but umpire Brian Gorman ruled Sogard safe. McClendon emerged from the dugout and asked for the review. After a review, Sogard was ruled out and the inning was over.

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Smith gives Mariners another weapon in 'pen

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Smith gives Mariners another weapon in 'pen

SEATTLE -- With a fully rested bullpen that ranks first in the Majors in ERA, Lloyd McClendon had a lot of choices when starter James Paxton was pulled after six innings Friday with a 4-2 lead against the A's. Following a Thursday off-day, the Mariners had all their weapons ready to go in a critical game as they push for the playoffs.

So who did McClendon opt for? How about rookie right-hander Carson Smith, a September callup with all of three innings of big league experience. And the 6-foot-6 Texan retired five straight A's before walking a batter and being replaced with two out in the eighth.

Smith, an eighth-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas State University, thus becomes the latest power arm in the Mariners 'pen as he joins a group that has posted a 2.39 ERA while going from the 29th-lowest ERA in the Majors in 2013 to the best in 2014.

"He certainly adds to it," McClendon said before Saturday's rematch with the A's. "He did a nice job for us yesterday. That was pretty impressive. … I just liked his sinkerball in that situation. My plan was to send him out there for one inning, but he kept pounding and getting the easy outs. It's kind of hard to take him out."

Smith, 24 and ranked No. 16 on the Mariners' Top 20 prospects list, had 10 saves and a 2.93 ERA in 39 appearances for Triple-A Tacoma this season, but this was a slightly bigger situation, with a crowd of 29,090 roaring and playoff positioning riding on the outcome.

"The adrenaline was going, the crowd was going," said Smith. "It was a good time, playing against the Oakland Athletics. It's safe to say you call them a rival right now in this playoff push. It was a big moment, and I was happy to get the job done."

The big right-hander faced four lefties in his six-batter stint as A's manager Bob Melvin went to his bench for a pair of pinch-hitters, but that didn't faze Smith.

"I have the same confidence against lefties and righties," Smith said. "I get to mix my changeup in a little more to lefties, so it actually gives me a little more confidence knowing I have three pitches to use instead of just two. But I know my go-to pitch is my slider, and that's going to be more effective against right-handed hitters."

So add another weapon to McClendon's bullpen arsenal, which has been a force all season long. Clearly, the skipper isn't afraid to use Smith in any situation, outside of the closer role held down by Fernando Rodney.

"They told me I'd be in anywhere from the third to the eighth inning," Smith said. "I'm just going to be ready every day if they call me. That's my job."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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McClendon likes Wilhelmsen in bullpen

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McClendon likes Wilhelmsen in bullpen play video for McClendon likes Wilhelmsen in bullpen

SEATTLE -- While versatile right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen was mentioned in midseason as a potential starting candidate down the road by manager Lloyd McClendon, Seattle's skipper said Saturday he thinks the 30-year-old might be too valuable in the bullpen to mess with that success.

Wilhelmsen made one spot start for the Mariners just before the All-Star break, but otherwise has been a bullpen stalwart with a 2.06 ERA in 74 1/3 innings over 51 appearances.

With hard-throwing young relievers like Brandon Maurer and Carson Smith recently adding to the Mariners' depth of bullpen arms, McClendon was asked if that might make it easier to consider trying Wilhelmsen in a starting role next spring. But he was no longer biting on that question, saying "that's way down the road," despite indicating he was intrigued by the big right-hander's starting potential earlier.

But McClendon did acknowledge the club's wealth of young arms could make for some interesting decisions.

"It's always easier when you have more options," he said. "Wilhelmsen has been so dominant in his role, I would be hard-pressed to take him out of that if you think of what he's done and what he's meant to this team. I was looking at the numbers yesterday. His hits-to-innings are ridiculous."

Wilhelmsen has allowed just 43 hits in 74 1/3 innings and has a 0.996 WHIP, which was second on the team behind Felix Hernandez's 0.915 prior to Hernandez's start on Saturday.

McClendon feels Wilhelmsen's versatility and ability to both pitch in a setup role as well as cover several innings to bridge the gap on occasions when starters have struggled makes him a critical element to Seattle's success, potentially as valuable as a member of the rotation.

"Absolutely," he said. "We'll look at a lot of different options moving forward."

Worth noting

• Saturday's game was a sellout at Safeco Field, the first since a full house for the home opener on April 8. There were about 15,000 tickets remaining for Sunday's 1:10 p.m. PT series finale with the A's as of Saturday afternoon.

• While Brad Miller has regained the starting role at shortstop, rookie Chris Taylor was in the lineup Saturday against right-hander Sonny Gray.

"I can't have him sit forever," McClendon said. "I need him to be a productive player."

• Seattle has clinched its second straight season series against the A's after going 11-8 against Oakland last season. It's the Mariners' first back-to-back winning seasons against the A's since three straight years from 2001-03.

Fernando Rodney led the AL with his 45 saves going into Saturday's games, three ahead of the Royals' Greg Holland. No Mariner has ever led the league in saves for a season. Kazuhiro Sasaki was second in the AL in 2001 with 45, and J.J. Putz tied for second with 40 in 2007.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Triple dose of power pulls Mariners into WC tie

Cano, LoMo, Morales go deep; Rodney's 45th save ties club record

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Triple dose of power pulls Mariners into WC tie play video for Triple dose of power pulls Mariners into WC tie

SEATTLE -- The Mariners haven't been to the playoffs in 13 years, but to hear their manager and players talk about it, the club's first postseason run since 2001 has already begun with Friday night's 4-2 victory over the A's at Safeco Field.

"I told my guys, this is really playoff baseball," manager Lloyd McClendon said after his club pulled into a tie for the American League's second Wild Card berth and now sits just a half-game back of the A's for the first Wild Card.

"Averages, slumps, all those things are out the window," McClendon said. "And what you did against a guy last time really makes no difference. It's all about grinding your at-bats out, standing in your inner circle and believing in each other. If you do that, you've got a good chance to get it done."

Robinson Cano, whose first-inning home run got the Mariners off on the right foot, echoed the same thought, saying the playoffs began Friday for his new club. And he should know, having played in seven postseasons and a World Series with the Yankees.

"These are the games you want to play," said Cano. "This is a team, if we want to stay in the race, we've got to compete against these guys. We played a good game today, now we've got to be ready for tomorrow."

And now Felix Hernandez comes to the hill Saturday night with a chance to pull Seattle past the free-falling A's.

"We have The King going tomorrow," first baseman Logan Morrison said in the wake of Friday's win. "We know it, they know it. It's going to be special. The atmosphere will be great. … I think it's a good thing that we're getting this playoff atmosphere before the playoffs start. Hopefully when we get to the playoffs, we can continue to play well and it'll just be a smooth transition."

Pitching has carried the Mariners much of the way this season, but they went on the offensive with three solo home runs Friday in front of a crowd of 29,090.

Long balls by Cano, Morrison and Kendrys Morales provided the run support for rookie southpaw James Paxton, who picked up the win while allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in six innings.

Paxton improved to 6-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 10 starts. In his career, the 25-year-old Canadian is 9-2 with a 1.73 ERA, the third-lowest ERA for any Major Leaguer in the first 14 starts behind the 1.31 of Steve Rogers of the Expos in 1973 and 1.67 for Tiny Bonham of the Yankees in 1940-41.

With Detroit winning and Kansas City losing, the Tigers moved percentage points ahead in the AL Central race. The Mariners thus are tied with the Royals for the AL's second Wild Card spot with 80-66 records, both trailing the 81-66 A's by just half a game.

The A's have gone 9-22 since Aug. 10, when they held a four-game lead in the AL West with a 72-44 record. With two games remaining this weekend, the Mariners have already clinched the season series against the A's with a 10-7 mark.

Cano pushed an opposite-field home run just over the fence in left in the first inning for a 1-0 lead, his 13th long ball of the year. Morrison broke a 2-2 deadlock with his eighth homer of the season in the fifth and Morales hit his seventh of the year with a shot to right field in the sixth.

Seattle's other run came on a bloop double by Mike Zunino in the second.

Paxton didn't allow a baserunner until the third, when he walked three batters and gave up a run-scoring single to Josh Donaldson. The lanky lefty struck out Jed Lowrie with a 96-mph fastball to get out of a bases-loaded jam and preserve a 2-1 lead.

"That was extremely big," McClendon said. "I keep saying, he's the glue to this rotation. He's not a fluke. This young man is good. He's a big Canadian. He's not scared. He's pretty tough and tonight he proved that."

The A's then tied the game in the fourth when Sam Fuld bunted Nate Freiman in from third base with one out, but Paxton dug in and kept the A's in check until turning the game over to his bullpen.

"I had to battle for that one," Paxton said. "I didn't have my fastball command. I was bouncing some breaking balls and stuff, but it was guys making plays behind me and making pitches when I had to."

Morrison's homer got the lead back for Paxton, and rookie right-hander Carson Smith and Charlie Furbush shut out the A's in the seventh and eighth before Fernando Rodney came on for his 45th save of the season, tying the club record for a season set by Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2001.

Smith was a surprising weapon for McClendon, who had a rested bullpen after Thursday's off-day but went to a September callup. After getting five big outs Friday, Smith has thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings in four appearances.

"He's been throwing extremely well," McClendon said. "I love his sinker. I thought I'd throw something at them that they hadn't seen. This kid is not fazed by what's going on. He's proven that. I just thought he matched up well. And our guns are loaded for tomorrow, so we're OK."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rodney ties franchise record with 45th save

Closer matches Sasaki's mark from 2001 with 16 games left in '14

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Rodney ties franchise record with 45th save play video for Rodney ties franchise record with 45th save

SEATTLE -- The Fernando Rodney Experience is officially part of Mariners history.

Rodney picked up his Major League-leading 45th save of the season Friday night at Safeco Field in Seattle's 4-2 win over the Athletics. That tied him with former closer Kazuhiro Sasaki for the Mariners' single-season record, which Sasaki set in 2001 on a team that won 116 games.

Rodney tied Sasaki's feat Friday night in typical Rodney fashion, allowing the first two hitters of the ninth inning -- Brandon Moss and Sam Fuld -- to reach on sharply struck singles before getting Coco Crisp to pop out, then striking out Josh Reddick and Josh Donaldson to end the game.

Rodney, 37, has just three blown saves in 2014 despite regularly letting runners reach base -- he entered Friday with a 1.29 WHIP. Yet, somehow, the mercurial closer with the slanted cap and nonchalant delivery almost always finds a way to escape trouble.

"Believe and throw the stuff you have. That's what I do," said Rodney, who will have 16 games left this season to surpass the mark. "I throw my fastball. I know I got two guys on base and I'm not going to stop throwing."

Manager Lloyd McClendon couldn't care less how Rodney finishes games -- as long he gets results.

"I think it's a great accomplishment," McClendon said of Rodney tying Sasaki's record. "He's been phenomenal."

Rodney admitted he didn't realize he tied the club record for saves until someone told him after the game.

"I didn't know what the record was for the closer. I don't know. I try do what I can for my teammates and get better and get through every night," he said. "To tie the record or break it, I feel happy with that."

This is the second time Rodney has reached 45 saves in his 12-year big league career. He saved 48 games for the Rays in 2012, when he posted a 0.60 ERA. In 2014, his ERA is 2.49, which is on pace for the second-lowest mark of his career. The Mariners will take it.

"I'm not sure where we'd be without him," McClendon said. "He's been that good."

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Mariners navigating difficult path to postseason

Club tied for second AL Wild Card, faces tough remaining schedule

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Mariners navigating difficult path to postseason play video for Mariners navigating difficult path to postseason

MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

SEATTLE -- The Mariners would appear to have the roughest road to the postseason among the six teams in the running for the final two American League playoff spots. Not that they care. They seem to relish the challenge. Seattle answered the doubters all season long, and it added another line to the resume by opening a weekend series against Oakland with a 4-2 victory at Safeco Field on Friday night.

That pulled the Mariners into a tie with the Royals for what would be the second AL Wild Card, and it left them just a half-game back of the fading A's, who are finding that just when it appears things are starting to perk up, another black cloud hovers overhead.

The Athletics seemed to be getting healthy on Friday night. Sean Doolittle was given medical clearance to return to the bullpen and the closer role, and Nick Punto was in the lineup for the first time since a right hamstring strained sidelined him on Aug. 2. By the end of the third inning, however, Geovany Soto was out with a strained muscle in his side, forcing manager Bob Melvin to insert his pitcher into the batting order because Derek Norris, the only healthy one among the A's four catchers, had been in the lineup as the designated hitter.

The Athletics now find themselves with an 11 1/2-game deficit in the AL West to the Angels, the farthest they have been out of first place since July 2, 2012, and their 12th loss in the last 15 games continued a second-half fade that has seen a 3 1/2-game lead disappear amid a 25-32 stumble.

And on Saturday night, the A's return to Safeco to face Felix Hernandez, who is 19-7 lifetime against Oakland, including 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts this year.

The Mariners? Well, they are still a half-game back of the A's, but they have taken control of their own destiny by at least sharing the second Wild Card with the Royals, and they are starting to see signs of life from Kendrys Morales, who delivered the opposite-field home run that provided the final margin of victory in the sixth inning Friday.

Morales has only hit .217 in his 43 games since being acquired from the Twins, but he does have three home runs and six RBIs in the last six games, and has provided a mental lift by moving into the cleanup spot between the left-handed bats of Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

"He stretches out our lineup," said Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon. "He brought respect to the lineup. It gives our guys some confidence. You can't measure that in numbers. He's helped quite a bit."

The schedule would seem to show the Mariners are going to need some help down the stretch. Yes, they share that second Wild Card with the Royals, but they have 13 of their final 16 games against teams in postseason contention.

The lone exception is a three-game visit to Houston as a part of a Rand McNally road trip that opens with on Monday with four games against the Angels, then takes the M's to Houston for three and Toronto for four games before a season-ending three-game visit to Safeco Field by the Angels.

None of the five other contenders for the final AL playoff berths have fewer than six home games, and Oakland opens a nine-game homestand on Monday before finishing the season with a four-game visit to Texas to face a Rangers team that has a worst-in-baseball record of 55-92.

"We have a wonderful plane," said McClendon. "We travel first class. We do what we have to do. The schedule is what it is."

Besides, Seattle has been road warriors. With the Mariners' win on Friday, they climbed back to .500 (38-38) at Safeco, the only non-winning home record among the 16 Major League teams with winning records. They, however, are 42-28 on the road, a .600 winning percentage that is the best in the big leagues.

And Seattle has answered the challenge of facing the best teams. The Mariners are 43-28 against teams with winning records, just 37-38 against teams who are .500 or worst. And while they have won eight of their last 12 games, three of the losses have come against the Astros (two) and Rangers (one).

"I told my guys, 'This is simple, this is playoff baseball,'" said McClendon. "'Averages, slumps, throw them out the window. This is about having good at-bats. It's about having believing in each other.'"

It's about the Mariners facing what would seem to be the most challenging schedule in baseball in the next 16 days, and looking for a way to turn that into a path into the postseason.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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McClendon's confidence in Morales unshaken

Switch-hitting DH brings balance to batting order in cleanup spot

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McClendon's confidence in Morales unshaken play video for McClendon's confidence in Morales unshaken

SEATTLE -- While Kendrys Morales went 0-for-11 in the Astros series and grounded into two double plays in Wednesday's 5-2 loss, manager Lloyd McClendon believes the veteran designated hitter is a key part of his team's attack heading down the stretch.

Morales went 6-for-15 with two home runs and five RBIs in the previous four-game series in Texas, and McClendon sees continued progress from the 31-year-old, who was acquired in a trade with the Twins on July 25 after signing two months into the season with Minnesota.

"I think he's got all the rust off him," McClendon said prior to Friday's series opener with the A's. "He had no Spring Training, he's swinging the bat good. His bat speed is back, he's starting to recognize breaking stuff. Earlier in the year he wasn't hitting breaking stuff very hard, now he's starting to drive it. I think it's just a natural progression. He's feeling better about things."

McClendon continues penciling Morales primarily into the cleanup spot, which is where he was again Friday. The skipper likes having the switch-hitter separating left-handers Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in his lineup.

"That plays a big part of it," he said. "You have the switch-hitter between them, it helps quite a bit. Now if we're facing a team that doesn't have left-handers in their bullpen, then you can stack your lefties. But this gives us a little better balance."

In 42 games with Seattle, Morales is batting .215 with five home runs and 22 RBIs.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Saunders thrilled to be in race after long layoff

Mariners outfielder sidelined for nearly two months by oblique strain, virus

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Saunders thrilled to be in race after long layoff play video for Saunders thrilled to be in race after long layoff

SEATTLE -- All the Mariners are enjoying being in the thick of the playoff race as the season hits the final stretch, but perhaps none more so than outfielder Michael Saunders.

After spending nearly two months on the disabled list -- first with a strained oblique muscle and then with a viral infection -- the 27-year-old Saunders rejoined the club Monday and has been in the starting lineup every game since, including Friday's series opener with the A's, even with Dustin Ackley returning from a four-game absence due to a sore ankle.

Saunders has gone 2-for-8 with three walks and a run scored in his first three games back and provides a strong defensive presence in right field.

There's no assurance how much Saunders will play in the final 17 games, with Ackley back and manager Lloyd McClendon also having the option to go with veterans Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia in right field. But Saunders is thrilled to be part of the mix again with the season on the line.

"It's extremely fun. It's like being a kid again," Saunders said prior to Friday's game. "It's not like it's not always fun during the season when you're healthy, obviously, but when you take so much time off and then come back right in the heat of a playoff race for the first time, it's a lot of fun coming to the clubhouse.

"That first game back, I was getting all nervous in the morning. It was like Opening Day for me again. I was extremely frustrated with what I've gone through, then knowing how hard I've worked to get over that and come back and finally be able to suit up again and go to right, really meant a lot."

Saunders is hitting .275 in 68 games and says he's felt right at home stepping back into the lineup despite his extended absence.

"I feel great," he said. "I would never have come back in the situation we're in if I wasn't ready. It's not about one guy. These games are meaningful to get to the postseason. If I wasn't ready, I wouldn't be out there."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Top five keys to Mariners' playoff push

Seattle well within reach of its first postseason berth since 2001

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Top five keys to Mariners' playoff push play video for Top five keys to Mariners' playoff push

SEATTLE -- It's coming down to crunch time for the Mariners as they pursue their first playoff berth since 2001. With 17 games remaining at the start of Thursday's off-day, Seattle sat a half-game back of Detroit for the final American League Wild Card spot and two back of Oakland for the top AL Wild Card berth.

Here are five things that will determine if the Mariners make the postseason for the first time in 13 year.

1. No more clunkers
Seattle had a chance to move past Detroit with a win Wednesday against Houston, but the Mariners instead dropped that game and the series with a 5-2 loss that manager Lloyd McClendon acknowledged was one of the worst-played outings by his club this year.

With 14 of the 17 remaining games coming against teams with winning records who are also fighting for playoff berths -- including seven against an Angels team that has the best record in baseball -- Seattle can't afford to let down now. But these Mariners have been an anomaly all season, as they're 42-28 against teams with winning records and 36-38 against sub-.500 teams.

This is a club that has continually risen to the occasion ... and that occasion is bigger now than ever.

2. The schedule looms large
Of the Mariners' 17 remaining games, 11 are on the road. But maybe that's a good thing, given that they have just a 37-38 record at Safeco Field, but a 42-28 road record that stands as the best mark in the AL.

A three-game set at Safeco Field with Oakland this weekend is critical, since the fading A's have come back to the pack with a 14-23 tailspin since Aug. 1. The Mariners have the opportunity to further ratchet up the pressure with a series win.

But no matter what happens this weekend, the last looming road trip -- four games at Anaheim, three at Houston and four at Toronto -- could make or break the season. The Halos have been the best team in baseball, the Astros have been surprisingly tough of late and just won two of three in Seattle, while the Blue Jays retain AL Wild Card hopes of their own and are on a four-game winning streak.

Seattle then returns home to close out the regular season with three more games against the Angels, and with no travel day to recover from a long flight from Toronto at the conclusion of that tough 11-game trek. It's a rugged finish to a season, but the Mariners have winning records against all four remaining teams on their slate. So the ball is in their court.

3. Pitching, don't fail me now
The Mariners have stayed in contention with the best pitching in the AL. There have been a few signs for concern recently -- a bad outing by Hisashi Iwakuma in Wednesday's loss to Houston, a recent rough spell for veteran Chris Young, mounting innings for rookie Roenis Elias -- but McClendon has faith in his group.

It helps that Felix Hernandez has been stellar all year and is lined up for four starts in the final 17 games, including the final day of the season, if needed. And rookie James Paxton has been a huge boost for the rotation since returning from a shoulder issue last month. Iwakuma and Young have been very good all year as well, and the ace in the hole is a bullpen with a 2.41 ERA that is the best in baseball.

These Mariners are built on pitching and defense. It's a formula that has paid off to this point, as long as the offense has provided just enough support to make it work.

4. Speaking of offense …
The Mariners aren't going to rewrite any offensive record books, but they need to hold their own with timely hitting and at least some production up and down the lineup in order to score enough to take advantage of that quality pitching.

One good thing to note there: The Mariners hit better on the road, which is one of the big reasons they've gone 42-28 away from Safeco Field. Seattle has the worst home batting average in the AL (.238) and averages 3.5 runs per game at Safeco, but the club is eighth in road average (.253) while averaging 4.4 runs per game.

That extra run each game on the road has proven to be a big difference-maker for a club that is 61-11 when scoring at least four runs a game and 18-54 when scoring three or fewer.

5. What's everybody else up to?
The Mariners' destiny is in their own hands … to a point. Certainly they have the opportunity to beat some of the teams they're competing with to put themselves in position to grab a postseason spot. But things also will depend on how the other teams fare these last 2 1/2 weeks.

Three of these clubs will make the playoffs, with either Kansas City or Detroit winning the AL Central and then two of the remaining teams taking the Wild Card spots. Here's the scenario heading into Thursday's games:

A's (81-64): Nine of 17 remaining games at home, six of 16 vs. winning teams.

Royals (80-64): Ten of 17 remaining games at home, six of 17 vs. winning teams (plus finishing a suspended game they trail Cleveland, 4-2, in bottom of 10th).

Tigers (80-66): Ten of 16 remaining games at home, six of 16 vs. winning teams.

Mariners (79-66): Six of 17 remaining games at home, 14 of 17 vs. winning teams.

Blue Jays (76-69): Ten of 17 remaining games at home, 14 of 17 vs. winning teams.

Indians (74-69): Seven of 17 remaining games at home, six of 17 vs. winning teams (plus finishing suspended game they lead, 4-2, over KC in bottom of 10th).

Yankees (74-69): Nine of 19 remaining games at home, 12 of 19 vs. winning teams.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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In Seattle, Selig recalls bond with Griffey

Widespread embrace of uniform No. 42 throughout league former superstar's idea

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In Seattle, Selig recalls bond with Griffey play video for In Seattle, Selig recalls bond with Griffey

SEATTLE -- Outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig stopped at Safeco Field on Wednesday as part of a tour of the Major Leagues' 30 cities during his final season and noted that the Mariners are one of the best stories in the game this year as they push for their first postseason berth since 2001.

"If you were to ask me back in April and then today about a surprise, I think they are a team that is maybe the major surprise of all the teams in baseball," Selig said in a 30-minute meeting with the media. "They've had a really wonderful year when you think about where they started. We'll see what happens."

Competitive balance is one of Selig's many accomplishments during his 22 years as Commissioner. Since taking over in 1992, Selig has overseen playoff expansion to the new Wild Card format as well as Interleague Play, instant replay review and a lengthy, unprecedented run of labor peace in the game.

But Selig declined to speculate on what legacy he'll leave behind, saying he'll leave that to others.

"I'm proud of what's gone on the last 22 years," Selig said. "The game doesn't look like it did in 1992, for a myriad of reasons. Whether it's the economic changes or all of the other rule changes, social changes. But I'll leave all of you to determine that. It's pretty hard to determine your own legacy.

"I'm pleased and happy. A lot of people have written wonderfully nice things, and I appreciate that. We've been through a lot, up and down. Bart Giamatti was right. Baseball is a metaphor for life. You have your good moments and downs. When I look at when I started in 1992 and what's going on today, I'm pleased. But I'll leave the legacy to all of you."

Rob Manfred, Selig's longtime deputy, will take over Commissioner duties in January. Selig said he's ready for the next phase of his life as he plans to teach a course in Sports in American Society at several universities, including the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University, and also write a book.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a history professor, and it took me to age 80 to become one," Selig said. "I'm looking forward to it. I've enjoyed this immensely, I'm grateful for the opportunity, I've been a baseball man all my adult life. But I'm not dreading [retirement] at all. On the contrary, I'm really looking forward to it."

Selig recalled several key moments in Seattle baseball history, including his own role in purchasing the Seattle Pilots in 1970 and moving that franchise to Milwaukee. He said that move turned out for the best for both cities in the long run. As Commissioner, Selig worked with Mariners officials in 1995 to help keep the franchise in Seattle and get Safeco Field built.

"I remember it very well, a myriad of conversations with [former Mariners president] Chuck [Armstrong] and [current chairman emeritus] John Ellis," Selig said. "It was tough there for a while, but all's well that ends well. The timing of 'refuse to lose' was remarkable."

And Selig recalled fondly his dealings with Ken Griffey Jr.

"Commissioners are never supposed to have favorites, but I'll tell you a story about him," Selig said of Griffey. "One Sunday in April of '04, my phone was ringing. It was Ken Griffey Jr., and he was very apologetic. 'I'm sorry to bother you at home. But I know how it's Jackie Robinson Day and how much that means to you. But what would be wrong with all of us wearing 42?'

"And I thought about it and said, 'Well, let me think about that. I'm always very cautious, and I'll call you tomorrow.' The more I thought about it, I just said, 'What the heck am I going to think about? It's a great idea.' And it was his idea. As a result, everyone wore 42, and it was wonderful. And that tells you everything. He was great. And he was great here.

"You talk about the stadium debate. The impact [Griffey] had on this franchise was remarkable," Selig said. "I saw him about a month or two ago. Great player, and with me great off the field, too, which was very important. His influence on the Seattle franchise was awesome. We may not be sitting here today but for him."

And it's those type of relationships and interactions that Selig will look back on as he leaves his office.

"Just watching the game grow, watching games, watching a lot of people mature," Selig said. "I'm really very proud of our players and front-office people. I've said it before and I'll say it when I go back to New York, when you have somebody like Derek Jeter -- and we have a lot of people -- but that makes it easy to be the Commissioner of baseball. I'm proud of everybody."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners miss chance on Iwakuma's off night

Offense, defense also struggle as Astros rookie wins MLB debut

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SEATTLE -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon wasted no time in offering an unflinching assessment of his club's pitching, hitting and defense after Seattle fell, 5-2, to the Astros on Wednesday night at Safeco Field.

"[Hisashi Iwakuma] had a bad outing. Our hitters had a bad outing. Our defense had a bad outing," McClendon said. "Everything was bad. It was just one of those days."

The Mariners needed a win to move back into sole possession of the second American League Wild Card spot.

Instead, they dropped two of three games to Houston and squandered a chance to pick up a game on the Athletics and Tigers, both of whom lost Wednesday. At 79-66, the Mariners sit a half-game behind Detroit for the second AL Wild Card berth and two games behind Oakland for the first AL Wild Card spot.

For the second straight night, it was the offense that foundered - the Mariners finished with five hits -- though Iwakuma, who fell to 14-7, didn't do much to help his cause.

The 33-year-old right-hander entered the night a winner in five of his last six starts but went just 4 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on six hits and two walks.

"Everything was up the zone," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I couldn't command pitches down in the zone. It cost me the game."

The Mariners also simply couldn't get going against Houston starting pitcher Nick Tropeano, who picked up the win with five-plus innings of two-run ball in his Major League debut after going 9-5 this season with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

"We swung at a lot of bad pitches," McClendon said.

Iwakuma quickly put Seattle in a hole when he ran into trouble in the second inning. After a one-out walk to Jon Singleton, he got Matt Dominguez to pop out before Alex Presley followed with a single. Backup catcher Max Stassi then delivered the blow, lining a single into left-center to score two runs. The next hitter, Jonathan Villar, added an RBI double that glanced off the wrist of left fielder James Jones, as the Astros jumped to a 3-0 lead.

"I couldn't get strike one, which kind of hurt me, too," Iwakuma said. "If you have to throw a strike, they kind of wait for that fastball and that splitter."

Iwakuma tried to make adjustments, and it looked like he did when he worked around a double to strike out two in the third, then worked a 1-2-3 fourth, but he couldn't rediscover his rhythm.

"From pitch one it was sort of off a little bit," catcher Mike Zunino said. "He didn't really have a feel for his slider and his split was up in the zone and his fastball gradually rose into the zone. For him, if he's not down in the zone, it's tough for him to find that."

Yes, Seattle showed signs of life in the bottom of the second when Zunino, who entered with a .195 batting average, hit a two-run double to cut the lead to 3-2.

But Tropeano, who led the Pacific Coast League with a 3.03 ERA, was unbothered. After Robinson Cano singled with one out in the third, he induced Kendrys Morales into a double-play grounder to end the inning, then retired the Mariners in order in the fourth and the fifth.

"First time I went out there I was a little nervous," Tropeano said. "But after that first pitch, kind of just settled in, I threw my game and the nerves kind of just went away."

Houston's offense wasn't done.

In the bottom of the fifth, Jose Altuve snapped an 0-for-9 skid by lining a one-out, RBI double off Iwakuma to give the Astros a 4-2 lead. Iwakuma followed by walking Dexter Fowler before McClendon opted to bring in reliever Dominic Leone, who struck out Chris Carter and Singleton to escape trouble.

The Mariners looked like they might chip into the deficit when Michael Saunders led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, which caused Houston interim manager Tom Lawless to replace Tropeano with reliever Darin Downs. But the left-hander proceeded to strike out Cano before Morales grounded into his second double play of the night.

"What do you want me to say? I managed bad, they played bad," McClendon said. "It's just the way it goes."

Kyle Seager began the seventh by drawing a walk, but Logan Morrison hit into a 6-3 double play with the infield shifted before Brad Miller fanned.

With Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen pitching the eighth, the Astros added another insurance run with Presley's RBI single to make it 5-2.

Is the pressure getting to a Mariners club that hasn't made the postseason since 2001?

"I think everything is magnified being in the hunt this time of the year when the games are that important," Seager said. "I don't think you're doing the team or yourself any justice if you dwell on it for too long."

The Mariners are off Thursday, then begin a critical three-game series against the A's on Friday night.

"We seem to always have off-days after we've been playing well," Zunino said. "Hopefully after playing badly, having an off-day will help us regroup."

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Smith getting feel for life as big league rookie

Right-hander unscored upon through first three appearances

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SEATTLE -- Contrary to popular belief, there are a few downsides for a Minor Leaguer when he is called to make his Major League debut.

Take Mariners reliever Carson Smith, who was brought up from Triple-A Tacoma when big league rosters expanded at the start of September. Less than two weeks into his big league career, he's already carrying out a rookie rite of passage.

"I do have the bullpen bag, the pink backpack loaded with Gatorades and waters for everybody that I have to dish out in the first inning every game," said Smith, who is ranked as the Mariners' 16th-best prospect by MLB.com. "Other than that, I've snuck by so far. I don't think it will continue that way, but we'll see how it goes."

On the mound, it's gone smoothly for Smith, a 24-year-old right-hander from Midland, Texas.

In three appearances, he's combined for three scoreless innings and given up just two hits. In Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Astros, he pitched two perfect frames and fanned three.

"He's been very impressive. We've thrust him in the midst of a pennant race and he's done a nice job," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's got real good stuff, he throws strikes, and he's not afraid. He's been pretty impressive."

Smith has a jerky delivery and a sharp slider. That makes him especially tough on right-handed hitters, according to McClendon.

"I wouldn't think right-handers would be very comfortable off him," he said.

Worth noting

• McClendon said he is comfortable letting rookie pitcher Roenis Elias finish the regular season in the starting rotation but will continue to monitor the southpaw's workload. On Tuesday night, Elias allowed one run in six innings. He's thrown a career-high 160 2/3 innings this season, topping the 148 1/3 frames he pitched for Class A High Desert in 2012.

• The Mariners have six home games remaining, starting with Friday's series opener against the Athletics. After the three-game weekend series against Oakland, they embark on an 11-game, three-city road trip through Anaheim, Houston and Toronto. They return to Safeco Field on Sept. 26 for a three-game set against the Angels to close out the regular season.

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners held in check, lose pace in race

Seattle drops half-game out of Wild Card despite LoMo's late blast

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SEATTLE -- The Mariners had a chance to maintain their grasp on an American League Wild Card spot Tuesday night, but Collin McHugh and the Astros had other ideas as Houston topped Seattle, 2-1, at Safeco Field.

Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar singled in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth off reliever Yoervis Medina as Seattle lost for just the second time in its past eight games to fall a half-game out of the Wild Card chase.

Houston rallied with two outs in the ninth off Medina with a walk, an infield single by Matt Dominguez and Villar's base hit to right.

That was enough to top Seattle on a night the Mariners managed just two hits. The Mariners are 79-65 with 18 games remaining, a 14-win improvement from this point last season when they were 65-79.

Detroit beat Kansas City to pull into a tie for the AL Central lead, so one of those teams is essentially a half-game ahead of the Mariners in pursuit of the second AL Wild Card spot. Oakland topped the White Sox, 11-2, to regain a two-game lead for the first Wild Card position.

Astros right-hander McHugh held the Mariners to an infield single until first baseman Logan Morrison ripped a one-out home run off the Hit it Here Cafe in right field to tie the game in the eighth inning.

Morrison's shot, his seventh of the season, was estimated at 411 feet and momentarily breathed life into a Mariners club on a quiet night in front of 11,345 fans.

"That was one of the biggest home runs I've ever had in my career," said Morrison, who was acquired from the Marlins last winter. "You could definitely feel the bench be like, 'All right, here we go again. We're going to come back.' It's good we have that feeling. It's a lot better than, 'Well, it's a tie game we're going to give it up again.' I like where we're at. It's a tough loss, but shoot, that's why we play 162."

Rookie southpaw Roenis Elias threw six innings of one-run ball, allowing six hits with two walks and four strikeouts in a strong performance for Seattle.

But Elias took a no-decision after departing with a 1-0 deficit, as he remains 10-12 with a 3.81 ERA. The Mariners have scored two runs or fewer in six of Elias' last nine starts, leaving him 3-4 with a 2.08 ERA since July 21.

"I felt good," Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. "I had a lot of confidence. I was just focused on throwing strikes and getting outs. … Just confidence and keeping calm, that helped me be the Elias I'm used to being."

Rookie first baseman Jon Singleton doubled to drive in a run for Houston in the fourth, an inning that could have been much worse for Elias. After a leadoff single by Chris Carter, shortstop Brad Miller made an excellent stop to rob Jake Marisnick of a base hit, and Singleton then just missed a home run when he laced a line drive off the yellow line atop the right-field fence.

"He made one mistake, a fastball to Singleton," manager Lloyd McClendon said of Elias' outing. "He got that one up. But other than that, he threw the ball pretty good."

The Astros appeared to score again in the sixth when Singleton was initially ruled safe on an infield single as Carter raced home from second. But McClendon challenged the call when replay showed Elias getting his foot down on a toss from Morrison just before Singleton reached the bag, and the call was overturned, keeping the score at 1-0.

Center fielder Austin Jackson had Seattle's lone hit through the first seven frames with an infield single in the fourth on a ball that Villar gloved at shortstop with a diving stop in the hole, but he couldn't throw out the speedy Jackson. Seattle's only other baserunner prior to Morrison's home run was Kendrys Morales, who reached on second baseman Jose Altuve's error in the fifth.

Jackson also made an outstanding running catch deep in the left-center gap to rob Altuve of a likely double in the fifth and tracked down several other balls as well.

"Those defensive plays by Miller and Jackson were really good," Elias said. "They help you keep your confidence up and pitching well."

Counting a Minor League start with Tacoma, Elias has now thrown 165 2/3 innings this season, already exceeding his previous high of 148 1/3 innings with Class A High Desert in 2012. The Mariners will give him an extra two days of rest before his next outing, Tuesday in Anaheim, and he'll have two more starts after that before the end of the regular season.

"We've strategically tried to watch his innings," McClendon said. "We've taken him out of ballgames early. I'm sure he doesn't like it, but we still got to be careful because we're on the edge with him. But he's done a nice job for us."

Elias said he feels fine and is ready to take the ball as much as needed down the stretch.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm just focused on helping the team to go as far as we can, whether it's the playoffs or not. I'm going to be there and helping out as much as I can."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Miller sees more playing time with bat heating up

Despite midseason benching, McClendon kept faith in shortstop's potential

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SEATTLE -- Just a few weeks ago, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon was looking at Brad Miller as his new utility player, the replacement out of necessity for an injured Willie Bloomquist after losing the starting shortstop role to rookie Chris Taylor.

But Miller never hung his head and instead continued working and regaining his confidence at the plate after a rough first half. And as the season hits the final stretch, the 24-year-old Florida native has found himself increasingly in the mix while producing positive results and a .273 batting average since the All-Star break.

Miller has batted .429 (12-for-28) with six runs, three doubles, a triple, two home runs and eight RBIs over his last 10 games, including seven starts, as he hiked his season average from .198 to .217 in that span.

"I tried to just prepare the same way and be ready," Miller said. "Just go with the flow, keep playing and things kind of work themselves out."

Taylor has performed well also, batting .295 in 33 games since his promotion in late July. But the youngster is 2-for-15 in his last five games and McClendon has leaned toward using Miller against most right-handed pitchers in September.

McClendon says he'll continue using both shortstops, depending on what matchup he feels gives him the best chance to win each day. But he acknowledged that Miller seems to have found himself again after letting things slow down a bit during his time on the bench. And that doesn't surprise McClendon, who felt from the start that Miller had a chance to be a very good offensive shortstop.

"You look at his Minor League numbers, this guy has done things that Robinson Cano didn't do in the Minor Leagues," McClendon said, referring to Miller's .334/.409/.516 line in 219 games from Class A to Triple-A over the three prior years. "That's not just something you shake your head at. I knew there was something there.

"And I believe that. I think he's going to be an offensive force in this league for a long time. It's taken him a little while, and there's still a lot of learning to do. He'll get better. I think he's the type of guy who should hit 25 home runs in this league. He's got that kind of juice in his bat."

Miller didn't enjoy being benched midseason but tried turning it into a positive.

"I think it all helps," he said. "Just getting experience and playing, whatever role it is. It's a long year. I haven't been through a full year in the big leagues and you learn. You learn through the ups and downs. I'm definitely more aware of the type of player I am and what I have to do to be successful now."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners win challenge to wipe run off board

Safe call at first base overturned on Singleton's grounder with Elias covering

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Mariners win challenge to wipe run off board play video for Mariners win challenge to wipe run off board

SEATTLE -- After a challenge from Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, a safe call at first base was overturned using Major League Baseball's instant-replay policy in Tuesday's game against Houston at Safeco Field.

It erased a run for the Astros.

The situation: Two outs in the sixth and left-hander Roenis Elias facing Houston's Jon Singleton. Seattle trailed, 1-0, and the Astros had runners on first and second.

Singleton hit a sharp grounder to first baseman Logan Morrison, who flipped it high to a covering Elias. Umpire Pat Hoberg initially ruled safe, and Chris Carter came all the way from second to score.

But after a review, the call was overturned, Singleton was ruled out, the run was voided and the half-inning was over.

Singleton was also involved in a review during the fourth inning when he hit a ball off the top of the right-field wall that was ruled in play, giving him an RBI double.

The umpires initiated a crew-chief review for a potential home run, but the call on the field was confirmed as a double, with Singleton taking third base on the throw to the plate.

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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In limited role, Jones excels at swiping bases

Speedy rookie racks up 25 steals, credits coaches for success

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In limited role, Jones excels at swiping bases play video for In limited role, Jones excels at swiping bases

SEATTLE -- While outfielder James Jones has started just one game since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on Aug. 29, the rookie speedster continues being a valuable weapon on the basepaths for Seattle. Though he's had just four at-bats since his lone start on Aug. 30, Jones has stolen five bases in that span to increase his team-leading total to 25 on the season.

The 25 stolen bases tie Jones for eighth in the American League despite having played just 92 games. Jones is 25-for-26 in stolen-base attempts, with his .961 percent success rate ahead of Ichiro Suzuki 's club record of .957 (for a player with at least 20 stolen bases) when he was 45-for-47 in 2006.

Jones stole two more bags and scored the go-ahead run as an eighth-inning pinch-runner in Monday's 4-1 win over the Astros, as he continues succeeding even in situations where opponents know he's looking to run. Jones stole 94 bases in 136 attempts (.691) in five previous Minor League seasons but seems to have perfected the art at the Major League level.

Jones said he's learned to study pitchers and their moves this season on film, and credits his success to a team effort involving base coaches Chris Woodward and Andy Van Slyke as well as some of his veteran teammates. Those lessons are paying off, according to manager Lloyd McClendon.

"I just think it's James having the knowledge and understanding that that's a weapon for him and something that is going to help him stay in the big leagues," McClendon said. "That gives you a lot of motivation."

Attention to detail and using film to study opponents more in depth is just part of the Mariners' progress on many fronts this season.

"When I took the job, I said part of the problem was making sure we're prepared on a daily basis," McClendon said. "Not just physically, but from a mental standpoint, too. That gives you an edge. Knowledge is power. When you know your opponents and what they're going to do in certain situations, it takes the edge off a little bit and should make you a better player. And our guys have done that pretty darn good."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Mariners open 2015 at home against Angels

Interleague slate features NL West clubs

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Mariners open 2015 at home against Angels

SEATTLE -- After six straight seasons of opening on the road, the Mariners will kick off next year on April 6 at Safeco Field against the Angels, according to the tentative 2015 schedule released Monday by Major League Baseball.

The opener will be a 1:10 p.m. PT game, which will be Seattle's first day-game debut since 2010.

The Mariners haven't held a season-opening game at Safeco since 2008, but they will host the Angels for a three-game set from April 6-8, then head to Oakland to start a six-game road trip before returning to Seattle for a nine-game homestand against the Rangers, Astros and Twins.

Starting on the road hasn't hurt the Mariners success rate on Opening Day in past years. Thanks in large part to Felix Hernandez's dominance, Seattle has won eight straight season openers, the longest streak in the Majors since the Reds won nine in a row from 1983-91. Hernandez has started seven of those games and is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA.

The American League West matches up with the National League West in Interleague Play next year, and the Mariners will host the Padres (May 12-13), Giants (June 17-18), D-backs (July 27-29) and Rockies (Sept. 11-13).

The Mariners also travel for Interleague series against the Dodgers (April 13-15), Giants (June 15-16), Padres (June 30-July 1) and Rockies (Aug. 3-5).

The Mariners will play at home on Mother's Day (May 10 vs. Oakland), Father's Day (June 21 vs. Houston) and Labor Day (Sept. 7 vs. Texas). They'll host the Red Sox for four games from May 14-17 and the Yankees for three games from June 1-3.

The season concludes with a six-game homestand with the Astros and A's, with an afternoon game against Oakland closing the regular season on Sunday, Oct. 4.

The initial schedule is subject to change. The official MLB schedule and start times will not be finalized until January.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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