SEATTLE -- The Mariners stranded 15 runners, watched starting pitcher Felix Hernandez accumulate more assists than strikeouts, and still were right where they wanted to be in the top of the ninth inning -- handing a one-run lead to the closer J.J. Putz . But for the first time since the 2006 season, the Mariners lost a game they led after eight innings. Just like last season, when a late-game, two-run home run saddled Putz with his first blown save of the season, a two-run blast into the right-field bleachers by Josh Hamilton on Tuesday night stung the Mariners with a 5-4 loss in front of 25,204 at Safeco Field.
The difference between then and now for Seattle's All-Star reliever was 97 games. Putz's first blown save in 2007 came in the Mariners' 99th game of the season, ending a streak of 29 consecutive saves to begin the season. He definitely is capable of reeling off another 29 straight save conversions again this season, but pitching in consecutive games worked about as well for him as it did left-hander Eric O'Flaherty, who surrendered two runs in the eighth inning when Texas took the lead for the first time. "It's early in the season and we used them back-to-back for the first time," manager John McLaren said. "We did that in Arizona, but it's easier to get warm down there. I don't either Eric or J.J. had their best stuff tonight." It was another chilly night at Safeco Field, where fans kept warm in blankets and clapped every time the Mariners threatened to score. And that was often enough to make things easier on themselves and especially Felix, who did everything he could -- with his arm and glove -- to put Seattle in position to begin the regular season with back-to-back victories. "I was a good fielder tonight," he smiled. Hernandez had five assists and one putout. He also surrendered five hits, struck out three, walked three and committed one costly throwing error during a gutsy seven-inning outing. "Felix really showed a lot of grit out there and looked like a shortstop," manager John McLaren said. "He battled his way out of some tough jams. The first one came in the third inning, when his wild throw on a bunt play put runners on second and third with none out. He managed to keep the damage to one run, striking out two of the final three batters. He eluded a bases-loaded, one-out predicament in the fifth by inducing Michael Young to ground into an inning-ending double play. With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, and the game tied, he knocked down a high bouncer hit by David Murphy, picked the ball up with his bare hand, and made an off-balance, one-leg-in-the-air throw to catcher Kenji Johjima for the forceout at home plate. And his final defensive act of the night came in the seventh inning. He snagged a line drive and turned it into an inning-ending double play at first base. Oh, he wanted to go another inning, but was told that his gritty, 97-pitch effort was plenty. Besides, the Seattle bullpen is believed to be one of the best in the American League. It wasn't up to snuff on this night, however. O'Flaherty, who is being groomed as the lefty specialist, served up a leadoff single to the left-handed hitting Hamilton, a double to the left-handed hitting Hank Blalock and another double to the left-handed hitting Murphy. All that produced two runs and a 3-1 Texas lead. But the Mariners roared back in the bottom of the eighth inning, scoring three times. The final run scored on a wild pitch -- one pitch after first baseman Richie Sexson struck out. The full-count pitch from reliever Joaquin Benoit was down and away, out of the strike zone. "I got caught up in the moment and swung at a bad pitch," Sexson said. "I was trying to do something special instead of just relaxing." Sexson struck out three times, singled once, stranded two runners in the first inning and predicted afterwards that he was going to "have a big year." Sexson wasn't alone in stranding runners. "It was just one of those games that we didn't get the runs across," McLaren said. "They were out there; we just didn't get them in."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.