SEATTLE — With Felix Hernandez unable to translate another stellar performance into a victory, his teammates squandering several scoring opportunities and Franklin Gutierrez back on the disabled list, business seemed close to usual for the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday.
The Pittsburgh Pirates scored twice in the ninth inning to edge the Mariners, 4-2, before a crowd of 21,265 at Safeco Field.
By sweeping the two-game mini-series with the M’s, Pittsburgh ran its winning streak to six and improved to 48-30 overall — tied for the best record in baseball. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992.
They had to overcome an outstanding outing by Hernandez. Regaining his customary form after blowing an 8-1 lead against the Los Angeles Angels last week, the Seattle pitching ace allowed only five hits and struck out 11 in seven innings. Neil Walker’s two-run homer in the fourth represented the only Pirate scoring during that span.
“In the middle (innings), he got a little bit loose, but he got it back,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “That’s a pretty good hitting team (he faced). He did a good job.”
All that earned King Felix was a no-decision, however. Although the M’s mustered eight hits, they stranded 10 runners and went 0-for-5 with men in scoring position — a showing that evoked more than the customary frustration from Wedge.
“We’ve got to hit, it’s time to hit,” the Seattle manager grumbled. “They got the two-out hits and we didn’t. Game over. We’ve got guys up here who should be doing better.”
“I’m tired talking about approach. I’m tired talking about mechanics,” Wedge added later. “You’ve got to hit.”
Wedge exempted Raul Ibanez from his criticism. The 41-year-old outfielder launched his 18th home run in the sixth inning to forge a 2-2 tie. The only other Mariner run came in a strange fourth-inning sequence that included a wild pitch on a third strike to Ibanez, an error on a potential double-play ball and Michael Saunders’ sacrifice fly.
“Everybody definitely puts in the work,” Ibanez said of his team’s offensive struggles. “I think (we need) a tenacious mindset. You’ve got to go out there together and try to focus on the ultimate goal of winning.”
One Mariner not in the lineup — now or for the foreseeable future — was Gutierrez, the oft-ailing outfielder whose appearances in a Seattle uniform the past two seasons have been about as frequent as blizzards in Honolulu. His latest comeback lasted less than two games when he strained a hamstring crashing into a fence on Sunday. He returned to the 15-day disabled list Tuesday.
Wedge didn’t comment on some questionable strategy of his own that helped produce Pittsburgh’s winning runs in the ninth.
Pedro Alvarez singled off Mariner southpaw reliever Charlie Furbush (1-4) to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to second by Walker. Right-hander Yoervis Medina took the mound to retire Gaby Sanchez on a grounder to third for the second out.
Playing the lefty-righty percentages, Wedge ordered the left-handed batting Travis Snider intentionally walked to pitch to the right-handed Jordy Mercer — who was outhitting Snider by nearly 50 points. Mercer came through with a solid single to center that scored Alvarez, with the other runners moving up on a tardy throw home.
A third strike to Starling Marte broke into the dirt and skidded away from catcher Henry Blanco, allowing Snider to come in with an insurance run.
Pinch-hitter Mike Zunino and fellow rookie Nick Franklin each singled to put runners at the corners with two outs in the Mariner half of the ninth. But Mark Melancon, the fourth Texas pitcher, retired Kyle Seager on a grounder that Sanchez handled while virtually standing on the first-base bag.
Vin Mazzaro (4-2), who pitched two scoreless innings, picked up the victory.
NOTES: Some of the boos that accompanied Snider’s intentional walk in the ninth undoubtedly came from family and friends. The Pittsburgh outfielder hails from Mill Creek, near Everett, and starred for his hometown team in the 1999 State Little League Tournament in Aberdeen … One-time Mariner phenom Dustin Ackley, recalled from Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League when Gutierrez was put on the DL, made his return to the majors as a pinch-runner for Kendrys Morales after the latter doubled with one out in the eighth inning. After intentionally walking Ibanez, Mazzaro ended the inning by striking out Justin Smoak and getting Saunders on a fly to left field.