Mariners improve to 29-16 in one-run games, most wins in baseball

SEATTLE -- The Los Angeles Angels were rolling toward a third consecutive AL West title. A 10-run rout of Seattle had them six games up on Texas in the division.

Then came Doug Fister, the return of Ichiro Suzuki -- and "The Nutcracker."

Jose Lopez's two-out double in the seventh inning made rookie Fister a winner and sent the Mariners to yet another one-run victory, 2-1 over Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The Angels' division lead shrank to 4½ games over the Rangers, one night after their biggest blowout of Seattle in a dozen years. Of course, they claimed they weren't watching the scoreboard.

Fister (2-1), making his fifth major league start, constantly changed speeds and location to hold what was the highest-scoring team in the majors to just one run and five hits in 7 1/3 innings. It came two weeks after the 25-year-old stymied baseball's other highest-scoring team, the New York Yankees.

"I'll tell you what, we talk about belief system around here a lot. It's awfully easy to believe in a guy like Doug Fister," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.

Fister followed Seattle's formula for its surprise rise from 101 losses last year to five games over .500 now: pitching in place of hitting.

It was the 43rd time in 133 games the AL's lowest-scoring team managed two runs or fewer. Yet Seattle improved to 29-16 in one-run games, the most such decisions and wins in baseball.

The healthier Mariners also celebrated nine-time All-Star Suzuki getting two hits after missing eight games. They had even more fun getting back Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre for the first time in three weeks.

When Beltre batted for the first time, after a hard ground ball severely bruised his testicle last month, the stadium public address system had a replacement for Beltre's usual walk-up music: the theme from "The Nutcracker."

Laughter filled the park.

Beltre, who went 0 for 4 with two long fly outs, can thank Ken Griffey Jr. for that. The team crackup had that idea for days.

Seattle's winning rally came with two outs in the seventh off Darren Oliver (4-1), with the help of iffy fielding from the usually dependable Angels.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a chopper that shortstop Erick Aybar thought was taking one more high hop. The ball skidded under his glove for a single. Then Lopez lined a double the other way into the right-field corner. Bobby Abreu rumbled there, then had the ball bounce out of his glove. That allowed Gutierrez to score.

It was just Seattle's second run in 25 innings.

"When it got to my glove I didn't close it enough and it started bobbling," said Abreu, who has carried the Angels most of the summer with his powerful bat. "I could have stopped that run."

Fister left in the eighth with a 2-1 lead -- and to a standing ovation from the crowd of 18,542 -- after a double by Maicer Izturis and foul out by an anxious Aybar.

Mark Lowe relieved and got pinch-hitter Mike Napoli to fly out, leaving Napoli in an 0-for-16 skid. Then Chone Figgins flew out to end the inning.

David Aardsma allowed a leadoff single by Abreu in the ninth. But he retired Torii Hunter and got away with three high fastballs to Vladimir Guerrero, who had two homers Monday, before Guerrero lined out. Then Aardsma struck out Kendry Morales for his 32nd save in 36 chances.

Suzuki played under a close watch, following tightness in his calf. He didn't fully sprint down the line on a routine grounder in the first. A trainer met Suzuki upon his return to the dugout, and Wakamatsu talked to the trainer and an interpreter with Suzuki nearby.

"I had to suppress myself a little bit, but that was out of caution," Suzuki said through an interpreter.

He is now 14 hits from becoming the first player with nine consecutive 200-hit seasons.

Starter Ervin Santana allowed five hits and a run in six innings. He has allowed three runs or fewer in five consecutive starts to lower his ERA to 5.68, the lowest it's been since April.

"Everything is coming together," Santana said.

Suddenly, so is the AL West race. Texas just gained 1½ games in one night.

Game notes
Griffey missed his fifth consecutive game. An MRI on the 39-year-old's sore left knee showed only swelling. He's not expected back until Thursday at Oakland, if then. ... Manager Mike Scioscia said Napoli will catch starter Scott Kazmir's Angels debut Wednesday.