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Mariners offense falling short

Mariners offense falling short

SEATTLE -- Two half-innings provided most of the storyline at Safeco Field on Tuesday night.

The Mariners were one run behind the Red Sox in the bottom of the fourth inning when Raul Ibanez coaxed a leadoff walk from Daisuke Matsuzaka and designated hitter Jose Vidro followed with a single to center field, putting runners on first and second bases.

Two pitches later, the Mariners were playing defense.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and center fielder Jeremy Reed slapped a first-pitch grounder to third base for the final out of the inning. Two pitches, three outs.

The Red Sox also put runners on first and second bases with nobody out in the top of the fifth inning.

Five batters later, the visitors had scored three runs and were on the way to a 4-2 victory in front of 38,425 at Safeco Field, sending Seattle (38-62) to its fourth straight loss.

The two most positive swings of the night by the Mariners were the ones taken by first baseman Bryan LaHair and Ichiro Suzuki in the eighth inning.

LaHair, promoted from Triple-A Tacoma last Friday, collected his first Major League hit, a solid line drive to right field, and Ichiro followed with his 2,994th professional hit, a double into the right-center field gap that scored LaHair with Seattle's first run of the game off Matsuzaka. Ichiro scored on Jose Lopez's single up the middle.

"That [hit] took a lot of weight off my shoulders," said LaHair, who ended a 0-for-8 streak. "It feels that much better that it was against [the Red Sox]."

He was born and raised in Worcester, Mass.

"They say the first couple of games get you pretty amped up and I put more pressure on myself to get that first hit," he said. "I decided before my last at-bat to let my hands fly and make good contact, which I did."

The late surge fell short, however, as Red Sox lefty reliever Hideki Okajima retired the two batters he faced in the eighth inning and closer Jonathan Papelbon set Seattle down in order in the ninth for his 30th save.

"Basically, we just have to come out and put more pressure on the other team early in the game," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "It seems the last three or four nights, we have not done a whole lot early and made it a good ballgame late.

"We need to do more early in the game and hopefully not be facing the Papelbons of the world every night."

The Mariners had their best early shot in the fourth inning. But it fizzled fast.

"That's baseball," Riggleman said. "It's a testament of how tough it is to go up there and hit. The guys in that room want it so bad. I feel for them. They are aching over these losses and aching over hitting into double plays and not continuing The the rally when we are putting pressure on the other club.

"That's all you can ask for. When you are going through something like this, you want your players to care and maybe they care too much. It's really bothering the heck out of them and I hate seeing those guys suffering through it. I am like a fan in that respect. I want them to feel good about themselves. They are a good bunch of guys and good players.

"They just haven't been able it yet."

There are only 62 games remaining to salvage something from the season.

Right-hander R.A. Dickey had another solid start for the Mariners, holding the Red Sox to a solo home run to J.D. Drew in the first inning. The fifth inning, though, proved to be his undoing.

Back-to-back singles put runners on first and third with none out and Drew delivered a sacrifice fly to give Boston a two-run lead. Manny Ramirez singled, Mike Lowell doubled home a run and Jed Lowrie added a sacrifice fly.

"That's a good lineup over there and will be a really, really good lineup with [David] Ortiz in it," Dickey (2-5, 3.93 ERA) said. "They know how to work the strike zone. A knuckleball pitcher who's not throwing strikes is going to have a difficult night against them."

Dickey might not have thrown enough knucklers.

"I gave up nine hits and five of them were on non-knuckleballs," he said. "I got a little too aggressive with my fastball."

Drew hit a full-count fastball into the right-field bleachers, his 18th of the season.

"With Manny on deck there, I would just hate to walk a guy in the first inning," Dickey explained. "I would rather take a shot at a sinker and get a ground ball, but I didn't execute the pitch."

He said if he had been facing another team, one without Ramirez standing in the on-deck circle, he might have "floated another knuckleball up there."

The Mariners have an aggressive hitting reputation and took their swings at Matsuzaka, who has a history of throwing a lot of pitches. But he needed just 99 to make it into the eighth inning.

"He was real good and we didn't get to him early in the game, whether that's because we were swinging at too many pitches or what," Riggleman said. "But tonight I didn't feel that was the issue. He was at the top of his game."

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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