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Big first inning not enough vs. Angels

Big first inning not enough

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SEATTLE -- A five-run head start revved up another full house at Safeco Field on Tuesday night, but it didn't seem to faze the visiting Angels.

To the chagrin of the majority of 44,295, and the suddenly-struggling Mariners, the Angels pecked away at the five-run deficit, caught up in the fifth inning, and then scored four runs in the eighth for a 10-6 victory that dropped Seattle (73-57) four games behind in the American League West.

The Mariners' fourth straight loss also cost them a game of their Wild Card lead, which now stands at one over the Yankees.

"We have to win tomorrow, that's all there is to it," said manager John McLaren of Wednesday's 1:35 p.m. PT series finale.

Ace right-hander Felix Hernandez gets the ball in what shapes up as the biggest game in his young career, but hoping there will be bigger ones to be pitched in September and perhaps October.

Asked if the Mariners faced a "must-win" situation, McLaren paused, and repeated, "We need to win tomorrow."

The way Tuesday night's game started, it appeared the Mariners were on the way to one of their most important wins of the season. Safeco Field was rocking as the Mariners went on an extra-base hit barrage in the first inning, running around the bases like a track team.

The Mariners, shut out for only the second time since July 22 in Monday night's series opener -- both times by Angels right-hander John Lackey -- immediately made sure it wouldn't happen again in the second game of the series.

Ichiro Suzuki ripped a leadoff triple into the gap in right-center. Jose Vidro walked, and both scored when Jose Guillen doubled to right-center. After Raul Ibanez walked, Adrian Beltre lined a triple into the right-field corner, putting the Mariners ahead by four runs before some of the fans had reached their seats.

Angels starter Ervin Santana retired Richie Sexson on a grounder to first base for the first out, but Kenji Johjima delivered the K.O. punch to Santana with a single to center field past a drawn-in infield, capping the five-run burst.

It was just the second time this season the Mariners scored five runs in the first inning. The first time was on May 3 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Seattle also lost that game.

But the Mariners have come a long way since then and are regarded as a bona fide playoff team for the first time in four years.

But so far in this series, the Mariners have done things that playoff contending teams avoid -- like issuing leadoff walks. Seattle pitchers issued leadoff walks in the third, seventh and eighth innings on Tuesday, and each of the runners given a free pass later scored runs.

The decisive four-run eighth inning began when right-handed reliever Brandon Morrow walked Gary Matthews Jr. on a full-count pitch.

"I thought it was a strike," Morrow said.

Matthews then stole second, called safe by second-base umpire Jerry Meals, although replays showed that Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt tagged Matthews before he touched the base.

"I thought he was out at second," Morrow said. "He tagged him on the thigh, and I think [being called safe] was even bigger than the walk."

Guerrero followed with a drive off the left-field wall, scoring Matthews with the go-ahead run -- and the first run off Morrow in his past 16 outings. Morrow retired the next two batters but then walked Reggie Willits and surrendered a single to right field to Orlando Cabrera, loading the bases.

Recently promoted reliever Rick White replaced Morrow, and Vladimir Guerrero, who had given the Angels a one-run lead in the seventh inning with a double to left-center, added two more runs with a broken-bat single to left field.

The Mariners, who lead the Major Leagues with 38 come-from behind victories this season, put runners on base in the eighth and ninth innings but stranded both in scoring position and lost to the Angels for the 10th time in 14 games this season.

"We had some key two-out hits, and I think Vlad carried the torch of those," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He did a great job."

Johjima had three of Seattle's nine hits, and Ichiro had two -- leaving him eight hits shy of his seventh straight 200-hit season.

"A good start, but a bad ending," McLaren said. "We went up five-zip, weren't able to do much after that and we couldn't hold them. They kept coming at us."

The Angels' comeback commenced in the third inning when starter Jeff Weaver walked Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis singled to right field. Guillen, trying to nail Kendrick at third, bounced a throw that third baseman Adrian Beltre couldn't handle cleanly, allowing Kendrick to score.

Back-to-back two-out home runs by Matthews and Kendry Morales in the fourth inning chopped two more runs off the lead, and the Angels pulled even with two runs in the fifth inning, ending Weaver's night.

"I thought Weaver was throwing the ball extremely well," McLaren said. "There were some pitches he didn't get [called strikes by home-plate umpire Larry Poncino], and he got a little frustrated. They hit the ball well against us, but we just didn't make pitches when had to and that pretty much sums it up right there.

"We played hard but didn't get it done."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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