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Smoak sprints home on Nathan's wild pitch

SEATTLE -- You can't make mistakes and expect to beat a quality club like the Rangers, which is why countless Mariners were kicking themselves Friday in the wake of a 3-2 loss that opened the season's second half on a tough note.

Third-base coach Jeff Datz took full blame for holding Justin Smoak at third on a ninth-inning play that wound up undercutting Seattle's late rally when Michael Saunders was tagged out after rounding first and having nowhere to go.

Smoak was kicking himself for not coming through with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning when he put up a great 10-pitch battle with Rangers lefty Derek Holland, but ultimately popped out in another frustrating moment of a difficult season.

Dustin Ackley took blame for striking out in the ninth inning to end the game, as well as for dropping a sure double-play ball in the fifth that cost starter Kevin Millwood a run in what turned out to be a one-run loss.

And Millwood? The veteran acknowledged you need to pitch perfectly against the Rangers' power-laden lineup, but he left a sixth-inning fastball up that Adrian Beltre crushed for what ended up being a game-winning two-run home run.

"You make mistakes against these guys, and they're going to hurt you," Millwood said after a gritty 6 2/3-inning effort. "Against a team of that caliber, you have to make all the plays you can and make pitches when you have a chance, and we just didn't do it."

After eight quiet innings at the plate, the biggest play the Mariners didn't make might have been when Datz stopped Smoak at third as the ball rolled down the right-field line after Saunders ripped a bases-loaded ground ball that deflected off the glove of first baseman Michael Young.

Thinking Smoak would go home and John Jaso would go to third, Saunders took off for second, only to see Jaso still parked there. Saunders was tagged for the second out. And while Smoak eventually did score on a wild pitch, the game ended when Ackley struck out after pinch-hitter Carlos Peguero walked.

"I blew it," said Datz. "It sounds like he'd have made it if I'd realized the ball had got down there that far. Looking at the replay, I think he probably would have scored. But I have to be sure in that situation. Hey, bases loaded, one out, here we go.

"I'd like to have it back, that's for sure," Datz said. "But with Smoaky running, I just wasn't sure he was going to make it, and being down, I played it safe. Obviously too safe and blew it."

Smoak said it was tough to tell from third base where the ball wound up after bouncing off Young's glove for an error.

"It's one of those things where being over there at third, it's hard to see where that ball actually is," said Smoak. "Everybody in the stands knows it's going to the wall, but from third base it looks like it could have been right behind him. It's just one of those things. ... I'm not the fastest on foot. You want to make sure it's to the wall before you go."

The Rangers were glad to get the help, with closer Joe Nathan winding up with his 19th save despite giving up three hits and a walk in the ninth. Young gave Nathan the assist for spotting Saunders' predicament.

"Joe did a great job," said Young. "As soon as I picked up the ball, I saw him there screaming that there was an out to get. We obviously got a big break there."

Millwood, on the flip side, doesn't seem to be getting any breaks as he's now gone seven weeks without a win despite deserving better.

Millwood gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings to a Texas group that leads the American League in scoring, but saw his record fall to 3-7 with a 3.71 ERA. Since beating the Rangers in Seattle on May 23, the 37-year-old has gone 0-3 with five no-decisions in his last eight outings ... all while posting a solid 3.70 ERA.

"Kevin was really good again today," said manager Eric Wedge. "That one fastball got up to Beltre, but other than that, he was really good and very consistent and executed pitches like he does. He gave us a chance to win the ballgame."

Instead, Seattle's record fell to an AL-worst 36-52, 17 1/2 games back of the 53-34 Rangers.

Holland, who gave up eight runs in 1 2/3 innings in Seattle's 21-8 victory in Arlington on May 30, held the Mariners to four hits and two walks in 7 2/3 innings this time out.

The Mariners missed a golden opportunity when Holland loaded the bases with one out in the fourth on a single by Casper Wells and walks to Jesus Montero and Kyle Seager.

Smoak then worked his 10-pitch battle that included a long foul ball into the second deck down the third-base line before popping out to short. Holland escaped the jam by getting Miguel Olivo on a slicing line drive to right fielder Nelson Cruz.

"Maybe we don't play the bottom of the ninth if I come through there, but it was probably one of the best at-bats I've had all year," said Smoak. "I got some pitches to hit, hit some balls hard, just kept battling, battling, battling. But I didn't get the job done."

Wells had two of Seattle's four hits against Holland and also threw out Rangers catcher Mike Napoli at the plate in the fifth inning, while Seager also had a pair of singles and a walk in a 2-for-3 night.

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