SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez pitched well enough Thursday night to win his eighth game of the season -- and moved another step closer to reaching double figures in losses. He held the division-leading Rangers, the third-highest-scoring team in the American League, scoreless through six innings. But the two-run, opposite-field homer he surrendered in the seventh snapped a scoreless deadlock, kick-starting the Mariners to a 6-0 loss before 22,624 at Safeco Field. It was an all-too-familiar outing for the staff ace.
In Hernandez's nine losses this season -- four more than he had all of last season in his breakout 19-win season -- the Mariners scored eight runs. But it gets worse. In his last five starts, the Mariners have scored 2, 2, 1, 0, 0 runs for him. "It has been 18 innings since we scored for Felix," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He's not a guy who's going to complain about it, but it has to wear on a young guy like him." Sure enough, Hernandez took the lack of support in stride. "I can't complain, it's just baseball," he said. "I just have to keep working hard." He was working hard in the series finale against the Rangers, but found himself locked in a scoreless duel against Texas right-hander Tommy Hunter. That changed in the seventh inning. Vladimir Guerrero led off with a single to right and, with one out, left-handed-hitting David Murphy hit a ball over the left-field wall, just out of the reach of Michael Saunders. "It was a good pitch down and away," Hernandez said, "but that's my luck. It was a pretty good pitch, and in this ballpark ... I can't believe it went out." It didn't help that Saunders was twisting and turning as he neared the wall, which prevented him from extending his 6-foot-5 frame to its max. "I was playing him shallow, not expecting him to go the other way, and got twisted around," Saunders said. "I ran back to where I thought the ball was going to be, but I didn't take into account the way the ball was slicing and got turned around. As I was going up for it, I lost track of where I was on the warning track and hit the wall instead." He said he thought he came "pretty close" to making a home run-saving catch. Murphy, whose three-run homer put the Rangers ahead to stay in Wednesday night's victory, knew he had his work cut out against Hernandez. "His stuff is amazing," he said. "He threw some curveballs that were as good as any pitcher I've seen. He's got Cy Young type of stuff. To have that ERA and that record, he's obviously fallen on some hard times. They're not scoring enough runs for him. But we respect him. He always pitches well against us and we have to bring our 'A' game against him." Hernandez retired 14 straight batters at one point, a streak that ended when Michael Young lined a single into right field with two outs in the sixth. He stranded Young, returned to the home-team dugout and watched the first two Mariners reach base in the bottom of the sixth when Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez singled. But Hunter (9-1) retired the next three batters. It was an all-too-familiar inning for the Mariners, who are last in the AL in runs scored. "We had plenty of opportunities in the ballgame and were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position," Wakamatsu said. "The top of the order is doing their job. [Ichiro Suzuki] and [Chone Figgins] are getting on base, but we have to be able to drive in runs and didn't do it again tonight." Ichiro doubled in the first and fifth innings but was stranded. Figgins singled in the third and seventh innings and never came closer than 180 feet of scoring as the 3-4-5 hitters went a combined 3-for-11. "You have to score runs to have a ballgame," Wakamatsu said. And wouldn't it be cool if Hernandez actually pitched with a lead. "With his competitive nature, if you can spot him a couple of runs, it's a different ballgame," Wakamatsu said. "But as soon as you give up a run, emotions change. He has been phenomenal. The record is not indicative by any means of how he pitched." Ichiro went into the game with 138 hits, putting him on a 208-hit pace. If he reaches the 200-hit plateau, it would put him in exclusively company -- one of only two players in Major League history to have 10 200-hit seasons in a career. He also would be the only one to do it in 10 straight years. Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, took 17 seasons to do it 10 times. The Mariners' right fielder is on the verge of becoming the fourth player since 1901 to bat at least .300 and steal 20-plus bases 10 consecutive seasons. He already has 28 thefts and is batting .313. The elite group currently includes Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. All are in the Hall of Fame.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.