SEATTLE - Catcher Rob Johnson was so mad at himself for fouling off a sacrifice-bunt attempt in the seventh inning on Saturday night that he felt like hitting a baseball about 400 feet. So he did. On the second pitch following the tipped bunt, Johnson drove a Kevin Millwood pitch up and over the 388-foot sign in left-center field, powering the Mariners to a 4-1 victory over the Rangers before 30,698 at Safeco Field.
"I was upset," he said. "I was asked to do a job and I didn't get the bunt down. I tried to bunt a slider in the dirt and I was pretty upset at myself. They call on you to do a job, you want to do it." He kicked dirt, got back into the batter's box, checked his swing on the next pitch, and then delivered the second home run of his big league career. The first one was a blast last season that manager Don Wakamatsu witnessed, but didn't remember. "I asked him if that was his first one and he said, 'no' and abruptly reminded me that he hit one in Oakland last year," said Wakamatsu, the Athletics' bench coach at the time. Saturday's home run, which scored Ryan Langerhans, provided the runs left-hander Jarrod Washburn needed to notch his sixth win of the season. Just in case, Seattle added another one later in the inning. Third baseman Jack Hannahan, acquired earlier in the day in a trade with Oakland, followed Johnson's blast with a double into left-center and Ichiro Suzuki lined a single up the middle off former Mariners reliever Eddie Guardado to boost the Mariners' lead to three runs. Right-handers Mark Lowe and David Aardsma finished off the Rangers, retiring five of the final six batters. Aardsma nailed down his 19th save in 21 save chances. The win assured the Mariners of going into the All-Star break with a winning record and moved them to within four games of the first-place Angels in the AL West. Washburn and Millwood staged a superb battle in the third game of the four-game series. Washburn, coming off a one-hit shutout against the Orioles, might actually have pitched better on Saturday night because the Rangers have one of the most potent offenses in the Major Leagues. "He really did a phenomenal job against a good lineup," Wakamatsu said. "He kept them off-balance by changing speeds and didn't throw many pitches in the middle of the plate tonight." The veteran lefty surrendered one hit in each of the first three innings. The third one produced the game's first run. A one-out walk to Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler's ensuing double into the gap in left-center gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Washburn limited the damage to that run, retiring Michael Young on a long fly ball to center field and striking out Josh Hamilton. The Rangers threatened to regain the lead in the fifth inning when they put runners on second and third bases with two outs, and again Washburn got the best of Young, one of the best clutch hitters in the Texas lineup. Young grounded out to second base. "I had first base open and I was just going to get strike one," Washburn said. "I had a feeling he wasn't' going to be swinging first pitch. I gambled right and got ahead first pitch. "I tried to change speeds on him after that and was able to do that. It slowed him down a little bit. If I figured if could hit my spot inside I thought we could probably get him out, and we were able to do that. I made some great pitches that at-bat." It kept the game tied and the Mariners finally broke through against Millwood in the seventh. "I don't know if he ran out of gas," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I thought Langerhans' hit was off the end of the bat and then Johnson didn't execute the bunt. He left a pitch up and he hit it out the ballpark." The Mariners took a two-games-to-one lead in the four-game series and all three have been stellar. "It was a great win," Wakamatsu said. "Like I said before, it's great to be home and have this kind of crowd behind us. It really does help. The players feel it and know the home-town crowd has their back." The Mariners gave the fans plenty to cheer about. Besides Washburn's pitching, Johnson's hitting and first baseman Russell Branyan's 22nd home run of the season, a game-tying blast to right field in the third inning, several outstanding defensive plays kept the fans in the game. Langerhans, the left fielder, made a strong and accurate throw to second base to gun down Marlon Byrd, who was trying to stretch a single into a double with one out. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez gunned down Byrd at second in the seventh inning on a weird play. Byrd reached first on shortstop Ronny Cedeno's throwing error and headed for second when Nelson Cruz hit a ball into center field. Not sure if the ball would be caught, Byrd got to the base, turned around and headed back to first. The ball landed in front of Gutierrez, who made a strong throw to second to force Byrd and deprive Cruz of a hit. "Once he decided to go back to first, he reestablished the force play," Washington said. "If he had rounded second base and made a move toward third, then they would have had to put the tag on him." The series ends on Sunday afternoon with Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard opposing the Rangers and right-hander Dustin Nippert. Both teams then take a three-day break for the All-Star Game in St. Louis.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.