Felix solid, but Morrow issues walk-off
Righty allows just four hits before closer blows save in ninth
ARLINGTON -- It's tough enough when the closer surrenders one walk-off hit in a series. But to do it in back-to-back games makes it twice as difficult to deal with the agony.Mariners closer Brandon Morrow knows the feeling all too well. "It was a tough two days," Morrow said. "We should have won the series, but because of two-thirds of an inning both days, we didn't. It's tough to swallow." There were gulps throughout the visiting clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Thursday afternoon after Morrow turned a two-run Seattle lead in the bottom of the ninth inning into a 3-2 loss before 21,002 fans. "It's unfortunate that you play eight innings and you have to give it up like that," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I know there is no one on this planet that feels worse than Brandon right now." On a day the Mariners received a stellar start from right-hander Felix Hernandez and key hits in the fourth inning to score two runs, Morrow was unable to seal the deal in the final inning. He surrendered a leadoff home run to Hank Blalock -- the same dude that hit a walk-off double off him in the 11th inning Wednesday night -- to chop the lead in half. Morrow regrouped and retired Nelson Cruz, but Dave Murphy doubled to right field and Chris Davis cracked a home run into the seats in right-center field. The stunned Mariners walked off the field, realizing that lightning really does strike twice in the same place. The Mariners, who finished the three-city, eight-game road trip with one win, played 29 innings in this series and either led or were tied in 25 of those innings. But NASCAR is the only sport that rewards lap leaders. After leading the AL West for 26 days in April and early May, the Mariners are now in third place, closer to the last-place Athletics than the first-place Rangers, who are 5-0 against Seattle this season. "I don't know about shell-shocked, but those are two games we definitely could have used," reliever David Aardsma said. "To have two wins pulled away from us like that is tough, no matter who you're playing, but especially against a team in your division. "I don't think anyone predicted that their pitching would be this good, but they are throwing awesome right now. Everyone knew their hitters would be good." The Mariners scored eight runs in the three games, but still had leads with three outs remaining in the final two games of the series. Morrow was six-for-six in save situations coming into the series, but recently came off the 15-day disabled list without the benefit of having any rehab assignments in the Minor Leagues. It's obviously difficult to miss that much time and be at your best when you have a job as critical as the closer. Aardsma, who pitched a perfect eighth inning, was among the Morrow-backers after the game. "Everyone who has made it here has been in his shoes," he said. "Brandon is a mentally-tough guy and will make it through this. He has great stuff, but missed a couple of weeks. That's a tough thing to do -- come right back in the fire." "They talk about the mentality of a closer, how tough it is," Wakamatsu said. "To have all your teammates out there battling for eight innings or so, and give it up on a pitch. ... It's something he's going to have to deal with. "He overcame it the first time, to start the year." Morrow made his first appearance of the season on April 7 against the Twins in the second game of the regular season. After retiring the first two batters, he walked the next three and Seattle ended up losing the game, 6-5, though Miguel Batista was charged with the blown save. Morrow came back and reeled off six consecutive saves before biceps tendinitis put him on the 15-day disabled list. He has not been the same since. Four of the seven batters he faced last Sunday against the Twins reached base, but Morrow was able to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam and save the game. He was not so fortunate on Wednesday night against the Rangers and again on Thursday. "A lot of it, I think, has to do with mechanics, and trusting he can locate his pitches," Wakamatsu said. "We're going to continue to work and see where we go." Morrow thought he threw too many fastballs against the Rangers, who are known as a fastball-hitting team. "I need to start mixing pitches," he said. "I'm like a pitching machine out there." And the Rangers were prepared for the heat. "Morrow throws a lot of fastballs," Davis said. "He threw a lot of fastballs last night and a lot today. When someone throws as hard as he does, you're looking for just one pitch. I was hoping to get one over the plate and put a good swing on it." The Rangers' home runs traveled a total distance of 866 feet. It was a tough no-decision for Hernandez, who returned to the form he had in April, when he went 4-0 with a low ERA. "I had good location with all my pitches," said Hernandez, who escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the first inning and retired 14 of the 15 batters he faced from one out in the first inning to the first out in the sixth inning. "He came out competing, and that's what we've talked about, his maturity level," Wakamatsu said. "I think he battled though some command issues through the course of the game and a couple of plays hurt him -- the pickoff at first -- but there's nothing I can say about his performance I didn't like."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.