ANAHEIM -- Every start offers a different challenge for Mariners right-hander Brandon Morrow. The hard-throwing right-hander made the second start of his Major League career on Thursday night without his best stuff, but still surrendered just two runs in a game the Mariners eventually lost, 7-4, to the freshly-crowned American League West champion Angels. To the Mariners' never-say-uncle credit, they made it interesting with three runs in the eighth inning and another in the ninth, turning what looked to be a night off for Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez into a record-tying 57th save.
After Ichiro Suzuki grounded into his eighth double play of the season to take some of the oomph out of a two-on, none-out situation in the ninth, Jeremy Reed and Adrian Beltre singled off K-Rod before Raul Ibanez hit a sharp grounder to first base for the game-ending out. "We were down and kept coming at them," Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "You couldn't ask much more than to have Raul up there in that situation. We had some good at-bats against a guy who just tied the record for saves, and it's a tribute to our club to keep working like that." Rodriguez tied a record Bobby Thigpen set in 1990 when he was with the White Sox. Ichiro, meanwhile, moved closer to tying a record that has belonged to Willie Keeler for more than a century. The Mariners right fielder triggered the late-inning comeback with a solo home run in the eighth inning, his 191st hit of the season. Nine more and he will join Keeler as the only players in MLB history to begin their careers with eight consecutive 200-hit seasons. A couple of young California-bred right-handers faced off in the four-game series opener and put on a good show for the not-quite-capacity crowd of 38,205 at Angel Stadium. Morrow, a 24-year-old from the San Francisco Bay Area, who no-hit the Yankees until there were two outs in the eighth inning in his first Major League start, surrendered his first hit of Thursday night's game in the third inning. And just like at home last Friday night, the hit scored a run. This time it was a single into right field by Angels left fielder Garret Anderson, scoring center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. from third base. Matthews, playing in place of suspended Torii Hunter, coaxed a full-count walk from Morrow, stole second and scooted to third when catcher Kenji Johjima's sidearm throw to second bounced past shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for a throwing error. The Angels, who clinched the AL West title on Wednesday afternoon with help from the Mariners, who beat the Rangers, took a two-run lead in the fourth when Brandon Wood delivered a two-out single into center field to score Juan Rivera from third. The inning started with back-to-back singles before Morrow induced Robb Quinlan to bounce into a double play. Angels starter Jered Weaver, a 25-year-old born in Northridge, east of Los Angeles, surrendered his first hit with one out in the fourth inning -- a solid single to center by Jose Lopez, who was quickly erased on an inning-ending double play. Morrow departed after five innings and 90 pitches. "He was OK," Riggleman said. "He had a hard time getting the ball down. Really, it's kind of a statement of just how good he is. He wasn't himself tonight and still held a good club down. I know they had some of their big boys out of the lineup, but Brandon kept us in the ballgame. He gave up a couple of runs and really wasn't locating the ball tonight." Morrow started out fine, throwing 21 strikes in his first 30 pitches, and retiring the first five batters he faced. But he began losing command of his fastball in the third inning, and struggled a little more with command of his fastball and curveball in the fourth and fifth innings. "I started falling behind guys," Morrow said, "and it shows how important it is to get ahead in the count. My breaking pitches were about the same as my first start, but I missed with it a couple of times up in the strike zone." Morrow (2-3) gave himself a passing grade, saying that if he had pitched this kind of game last Friday night in his MLB starting debut, "It would have been [considered] a success. Five innings, two runs, that's about all you can ask. All in all, I thought it was a good outing for it being just my second start." Among the positives that he took out of the game was getting to work out of the stretch position more than he did against the Yankees in his near no-hitter, and practice on the slide-step move which keeps the runner on first base from getting a good jump. "It's still a learning process," he said. Morrow's departure after the fifth inning was good news for the Angels. Riggleman needed three relievers to make it through the Angels' five-run sixth inning, an uprising that ballooned the Halos' lead to a comfortable seven runs. Right-hander Sean Green absorbed the brunt of the game-deciding inning, surrendering four of the runs on four hits. He retired one batter. "I don't know what to tell you," said Riggleman of Green's continuing problems. "We tried to put him in a little softer situation tonight, when were down a couple but still in the game. [Pitching coach] Mel [Stottlemyre] and I thought it was kind of a good spot for him, an important spot, but yet not in the seventh or eighth. "Nothing can go right for him right now." A single here, double there, single here and another double ended Green's outing. After coming out of the All-Star break with a 2-2 record and 2.67 ERA, the reliever now has a 4-5 record and a 4.58 ERA. "He's just struggling right now and nothing to do but keep working at it," Riggleman said. On a more positive note, right-handed relievers R.A. Dickey and Mark Lowe pitched one perfect inning of relief, keep the Mariners within shouting distance of the division champs.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.