SEATTLE -- David Murphy and Nelson Cruz drove in the go-ahead runs off Felix Hernandez with two outs in the fifth inning, reliever Robbie Ross came up huge in the seventh and eighth behind slogging, fill-in starter Justin Grimm, then Joe Nathan finished the ninth for his 301st career save in the Texas Rangers’ 4-3 win over the Seattle Mariners on a cold Thursday night at Safeco Field.
How to topple a “King”: The Rangers spoiled the season home debut of Hernandez, who was pitching in Seattle for the first time since signing a seven-year, $175 million contract extension this winter. The Rangers ignored the gold “King’s Court” T-shirts, matching K cards and royal chants swirling from the 22,917 fans while whacking “The King” for eight hits and four runs in the first five innings.
Murphy’s two-out, RBI single broke a 2-2 tie. Then, Cruz golfed Hernandez’s split-fingered fastball into the left-field corner for a double that put Texas ahead 4-2 in the fifth.
The Rangers’ 10 hits in Hernandez’s 6⅔ innings were more than they had off him in all of 2012. He allowed them one run and nine hits combined in two victories last season.
The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner lost for the fifth time in seven decisions against Texas dating to the 0-4 season he had against them in 2011.
The Rangers hit Hernandez hard early by being aggressive. A.J. Pierzynski’s second home run as a Ranger, in the second inning, was on the at-bat's first pitch. Mitch Moreland drove the next pitch on a line to deep left field, where Raul Ibanez misplayed it for an error. And Elvis Andrus’ single that scored Moreland came on an 0-1 pitch. Texas had batted around just 1⅓ innings into the game.
Preserving Ross: The Rangers’ left-hander struck out Ibanez with the bases loaded on what appeared to be a slider at 86 miles per hour to end the seventh and keep Texas ahead 4-2. Ross allowed a bloop single by former Rangers’ No. 1 draft pick Justin Smoak, then a bloop double down the same right-field line by Jesus Montero to begin the bottom of the eighth.
After Robert Andino’s RBI ground out made it 4-3, Ross charged off the mound, fielded Brendan Ryan’s suicide squeeze on the run and flipped it option quarterback-style to Pierzynski in one motion. The catcher tagged out pinch runner Endy Chavez for the second out. Ross then struck out Franklin Gutierrez with a man on to end the threat.
Still buds: Adrian Beltre, who won two Gold Gloves as the Mariners’ third baseman from 2005-09, was the first Ranger to swing at a first pitch from Hernandez, four batters into the game. He lined it off third baseman Kyle Seager’s glove for an infield single. After Murphy struck out to end the first inning, Beltre and Hernandez laughed together in the infield grass before the Ranger playfully cuffed the back of the Seattle ace’s head. Hernandez and Ibanez are the only Mariners who were teammates with Beltre in Seattle.
Have we met? Pierzynski and other Rangers yukked it up from the on-deck circle throughout the game with Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. The two defensive backs were sitting in the first row of box seats just to the right of the visiting dugout, wearing matching Mariners game jerseys with their names and NFL uniform numbers.
Up next: Yu Darvish (2-0, 1.98 ERA) says the blister that cut his last start short after five innings is fine to start Friday against Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma. It’s the 10th major league game started by pitchers born in Japan. First pitch is at 9:10 p.m. on TXA21 and 660 AM.