ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Manager Eric Wedge figures his young Seattle Mariners are learning plenty about late-game execution and poise while facing playoff-contending teams down the stretch of their third straight losing season.
Torii Hunter and the Los Angeles Angels provided quite a lesson this time.
Hunter’s RBI singles tied it in the seventh inning and ended it in the ninth, and Los Angeles kept pace in the AL wild-card race with its fifth consecutive victory, 4-3 over the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.
Pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis opened the ninth with a single off Stephen Pryor (3-1) and advanced to third on a wild pitch and Peter Bourjos’ bunt. Seattle walked rookie Mike Trout to face Hunter, who coolly stroked a single to center, pumping his fist as he jogged to first with the Los Angeles dugout in pursuit.
The Mariners couldn’t hold on to that one-run lead in the seventh to protect what would have been ace Felix Hernandez’s 14th win, failing to get a hit off the Angels’ bullpen in the final 3 1-3 innings.
“That’s where we’ve got to be better,” Wedge said. “We’ve had so many one-run games this year … but we’ve got a lot of young kids that are going through experiences right now that are going to help them be a better veteran club in a couple of years. All these one-run games that we’ve come up short with, we’ll win a lot of those games just because of their experiences.”
Justin Smoak hit his third homer in two games for the Mariners, who have lost seven of nine. Brendan Ryan and Franklin Gutierrez drove in early runs, but Seattle couldn’t capitalize on a solid start by Hernandez, who struck out nine.
Pryor blamed himself for exacerbating the ninth-inning problems with a wild pitch.
“Trout and Hunter are both good hitters, so you kind of pick your poison there,” he said. “We were trying to set up a double play there to get out of the inning. I tried to get Hunter to hit a ground ball, but I ended up giving up a soft liner over the infield.”
Erick Aybar had an early two-run double before Hunter’s impressive finish for the Angels (86-69), who remained two games behind Oakland (88-67) after the other three teams in the AL wild-card race all won Wednesday. Baltimore (89-67) is a half-game ahead of the Athletics atop the wild-card race, while Tampa Bay (85-70) has won seven straight to stay one game behind the Angels.
“It’s tough, because those games were over (before the Angels played),” Hunter said. “That’s when I said, ‘I’ve got to bear down and make something happen.'”
Something has been happening constantly for Hunter, the 37-year-old outfielder and unofficial team captain who hopes to be re-signed this winter. He has been spectacular down the stretch of his fifth season with the Angels, contributing 23 RBIs in 23 games — none bigger than the two that he conjured against Seattle.
Ernesto Frieri (4-2) pitched the ninth for the Angels, whose bullpen shut down Seattle after C.J. Wilson’s departure.
Hernandez pitched six innings of five-hit ball, leaving with a lead before the Angels’ seventh-inning rally against reliever Josh Kinney. Hernandez, who is slated to face the Angels again in Seattle next week, is 0-2 in four starts against Los Angeles this season.
Wilson had his second straight short start in a nightmarish second half of the season. After failing to get out of the third inning against Texas last week, he gave up five hits, three walks and several hard-hit outs to theMariners in 5 1-3 innings despite picking up his 800th career strikeout along the way.
“He had some walks here and there, but he was able to get out of some innings without giving up a lot of damage, which is important,” said Seattle’s Dustin Ackley, who went 0 for 4. “He let the leadoff guy on a couple of times, but he limited the damage that we were able to do in those innings when we could have broken through.”
Seattle evened it at 2 in the third after Wilson walked Casper Wells and Chone Figgins. Smoak put theMariners ahead in the fourth with a long drive, his team-leading 19th of the season.
Hernandez retired nine straight after Aybar’s leadoff single in the fourth, but threw 103 pitches before Kinney replaced him to start the seventh.
NOTES: Izturis was 0 for 20 as a pinch-hitter this season before connecting in the ninth. … The Angels surpassed 3 million fans for the season Wednesday night, reaching the mark for the 10th consecutive year since their only World Series championship. … Dan Haren starts the Angels’ regular-season home finale on Wednesday afternoon against Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.