SEATTLE -- One hit, arguably, separated the Mariners from taking over the lead in the Wild Card race on Saturday night. It never came. Instead, Boston's ferocious hurlers made just enough pitches to escape several jams, and the Mariners lost to the Red Sox, 4-3, on Saturday night in front of 46,313 at Safeco Field. Seattle was not able to take advantage of key losses by Cleveland and Detroit, and remained a half-game behind the Tigers in the American League Wild Card race. The Mariners also stayed 2 1/2 games behind the West-leading Angels, who also lost Saturday.
But the Red Sox combined timely hitting with precision pitching, preventing the Mariners from completing their 34th come-from-behind victory this season in a classic duel between teams whose records both rank near the top of the league. Daisuke Matsuzaka stifled the Mariners through seven innings, allowing just two runs -- both solo shots -- on six hits while striking out 10. The Mariners, though, were never able to capitalize when they needed to, and had no better opportunity than when they loaded the bases with one out in the third, only to come up empty. "We had a couple chances, but like I said, he made some pitches, and he pitched out of a couple jams," manager John McLaren said of Matsuzaka. "He showed me something tonight." Boston, meanwhile, managed four runs in 6 1/3 innings off Jarrod Washburn, enough to hand him his eighth loss this season. He cruised up until the sixth, where he allowed three consecutive hits, including two doubles. Their sixth-inning barrage gave the Red Sox a three-run lead, which was more than enough to help their late-inning tandem of Eric Gagne and Jonathan Papelbon preserve the lead. "You've got your work cut out for you, going against a lineup like that," Washburn said. "One-through-nine, they're good veteran hitters, and they go to the plate with a good plan." Washburn, who has not earned a win since July 4, threw 111 pitches in less than seven innings, mostly because of the patient Boston lineup that works the count. He issued two walks while striking out four, but constantly found himself behind in the count. "These guys will do that to you," Washburn said. "They take a lot of pitches, wait for their pitch and work the count good." Papelbon nursed a one-run lead in the ninth, and appeared to be cruising along to his 25th save of the season, striking out the first two batters he faced. Seattle made it interesting, though, and walked two straight batters before Adrian Beltre fouled out after swinging at a first-pitch fastball, ending the game. "That was some kind of game," McLaren said. "We gave it all we had. We just came up a little short." Beltre and Yuniesky Betancourt homered for the Mariners, although that was all the offense they could generate against Matsuzaka, who struck out at least one batter in every inning he pitched except the fourth. Seattle's bullpen came through yet again, as relievers Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow combined for 2 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed just two hits. Rowland-Smith struck out four and didn't issue a walk, and has now struck out 20 hitters in 15 1/3 innings this season, while walking just four. Even with the bullpen in lockdown mode, the Mariners weren't able to get the best of Matsuzaka, who earned his first win this season against the Mariners, despite facing them three previous times this season. Seattle had won four straight games against the Red Sox prior to Saturday's loss. Still, the capacity crowd at Safeco Field -- the eighth sellout of the season -- almost appeared to expect a late-inning rally from the Mariners. The rally came and went, and the Mariners came up one hit short. But they made things interesting against one some of the league's top pitchers, and that's something fans can continue to expect as the playoff hunt intensifies. "That's kind of how we've been all season long," Washburn said. "There's no quit in this clubhouse. We keep fighting until the last out is made."
Patrick Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.