ARLINGTON -- A four-game series next month in Anaheim could have much more importance in the playoff race than the three-game series the Mariners and Angels play at Safeco Field during the next three days. But this is the most important series the American League West rivals have played in Seattle in nearly four years. After gladly saying goodbye to Texas on Sunday night, following a 5-3 loss to the Rangers in front of 25,437 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the Mariners finally could give their undivided attention to the AL West-leading Angels, who have a two-game edge heading into Monday night's opener.
"We're ready to play the Angels," manager John McLaren said. "It's not do-or-die by any means, but everyone knows what's at stake. Every game is huge when you're playing the team in front of us. We're ready to play. Nothing else needs to be said. We're ready to play." A replay of the last series the teams played would be just fine with the Mariners. Right-hander Miguel Batista held the Angels scoreless for seven innings, and combined with Brandon Morrow and J.J. Putz on a four-hit, 2-0, victory on July 30 in the opener of a three-game series at Safeco Field. The Halos won the second game, 8-0, behind John Lackey, and the Mariners won the series with an entertaining, 8-7, 12-inning victory in the finale. It's Batista versus Lackey in Round 1 on Monday. Former Angel Jarrod Washburn will be on the sidelines for all three games of this series, missing by one day of pitching the series opener. "There will be more big ones later on," Washburn said, "and I am sure I will get my share of them." The teams meet for the last time in 2007 during a four-game series in Anaheim on Sept. 20-23. And that could be for the division title. The road to October continues in the fast lane Monday night. Between now and Sept. 10, the Mariners will play the AL Central-leading Indians in a makeup game, three games against the Blue Jays in Toronto, three against the Wild Card-contending Yankees in New York and three against the reigning AL champion Tigers in Detroit. As of Monday, the Mariners were two games ahead of the Yankees in the Wild Card race with 34 games remaining. "This series has some importance to it," Washburn said of the upcoming three-game set. "Anytime you play the team in front of you, you can't afford to lay an egg. But there is a lot of baseball to be played. By no means is the season over if we lose all three." Designated hitter Jose Vidro warned about putting too much into the next three games. "There is still a long way to go, so we have to make sure not to put too much pressure on ourselves in these three games," Vidro said. "I don't want us to think it's a must-win situation and get out of our game trying to do too much. If we just keep playing good baseball, everything will take care of itself. When we do that, we'll be OK." What the Mariners have done a lot of this season is accumulate come-from-behind wins. They had a chance for No. 38 right off the bat in the series finale against the Rangers. Washburn surrendered a single to Ian Kinsler to begin the bottom of the first inning, and two outs later, Sammy Sosa walloped a 430-foot home run to left field. It was Sosa's 17th home run of the season and 605th of his career. "I threw two bad pitches in the first inning," Washburn said. "I missed in the middle to Kinsler and missed in the middle to Sosa." Washburn (9-11) figured that if he kept the game close, the Mariners hitters would figure out a way to erase the deficit, pull ahead and win another game. But Texas right-hander Vicente Padilla held Seattle (73-55) to two infield singles through six innings and had a 3-0 lead. The Mariners, who entered the finale on a streak of nine consecutive games with at least 10 hits -- 118 hits overall -- scored their first run on back-to-back-to-back singles by Jose Guillen, Raul Ibanez and Adrian Beltre in the seventh inning, and rallied for two runs in the ninth. But the two runs Texas scored in the eighth off right-hander Sean Green proved decisive. After winning four of the first five games on the seven-game road trip, the Mariners returned home on a two-game skid. "We're disappointed, but I'm not [ticked]," McLaren said. "We were looking for 5-2, but it's 4-3. That being said, we're ready to take the Angels on." And happy to say "adios" to the Lone Star state. The Mariners went 3-6 in games played in Arlington. "This is a tough place to win," McLaren said. "We've always had problems here. The heat, whatever ... this is a tough venue to play in. We split [the four-game series] and we're out of here. We're done here this year." Counting the three-game Interleague Play series sweep against the Astros in Houston, the Mariners were 3-9 in McLaren's home state this season. The state of Washington has been a kinder, friendlier place. The Mariners have a 40-24 record at home. Perhaps some of that home cooking will play a role in this upcoming series, the most significant one between these teams in quite some time. The Mariners and Angels were chasing the Athletics on Sept. 12, 2003, when the Angels came to town. Seattle won the first two games of the series, behind the strong starting pitching of Jamie Moyer and Freddy Garcia, but lost the series finale, falling to 3 1/2 games behind Oakland. The Mariners never got closer and were eliminated from the division race on Sept. 23, when the Angels eked out a 2-1 victory in 11 innings in Anaheim. Until this season, the Mariners hadn't been the same.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.