04/24/07 12:40 AM ET
Rangers can't catch Mariners
Four-run deficit too much to overcome in series opener
By Ken Daley / Special to MLB.com
But as the losses mount and the batting averages fall, Texas Rangers hitters are getting closer to the boiling point.
"Those guys are a little upset they're not doing what they're capable of doing," Rangers manager Ron Washington admitted after Monday's 5-4 loss to Seattle. "I'd be more upset if they were walking around, jovial and happy, because they know it's going to come. But they're showing signs of caring."
What exactly those signs were Monday night, Washington wouldn't say. And shortstop Michael Young only laughed incredulously when reporters asked if he would reveal whether any of his teammates had blown their stacks or damaged a wall as the Mariners ended a six-game losing streak at their expense.
The problem for the Rangers (8-11) is that such candidates are so numerous:
Of their regular starting lineup, second baseman Ian Kinsler (.333) is the only player batting better than .270. One-third of their starters are batting under .200, and No. 1 catcher Gerald Laird's average has sunk to .098.
The big boppers? Kinsler, the second-year second baseman who started the season batting ninth, still has as many home runs (seven) as Sammy Sosa (four), Young (two), Hank Blalock (one) and Mark Teixeira (none) combined.
Utility man Matt Kata and part-time outfielder Brad Wilkerson still have more RBI this season than Teixeira (three), and they have one start between them in the past week.
Clearly, something has to give, and soon. Is it time to worry about a group batting .230 as a team, tied for last in the American League?
"Not in the first month of the season, you don't," declared Washington. "You can start the season one of two ways, and they've gotten off a little bad. But the way things are going in April, they could turn it around the opposite way in May.
"We trust those guys. They're our bread and butter. We got no choice but to wait on them. But they're working hard."
The Rangers indeed fought hard Monday to make a game of it, after the Mariners drew first blood with a four-run fourth inning against Kevin Millwood. An RBI single by Jose Lopez and a three-run triple by Ichiro Suzuki gave the Mariners their big cushion.
That lead looked formidable, given Texas' history against Mariners right-hander Cha Seung Baek. The South Korean was making his season debut, in place of the injured Felix Hernandez, against the team he most likes to face. Baek entered the game 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA in three starts against the Rangers, and was only 3-5 with a 6.39 ERA in 10 starts against other opponents.
But his mastery of the Rangers began to crumble in the bottom of the fourth. His 4-0 lead was cut in half when he gave up a one-out single to Sosa, followed by a two-run homer by Blalock, his first of the season.
The Rangers surged again with one out in the fifth. Frank Catalanotto tripled and scored on a single by Young, only the shortstop's fourth RBI in the last nine games. Teixeira and Sosa followed with singles, and Sosa's full-count hit to center scored Young with the tying run, chasing Baek.
Seattle rookie reliever Brandon Morrow moved the runners into scoring position with a wild pitch, so Mariners manager Mike Hargrove had him intentionally walk Blalock to load the bases. It looked as if an old-fashioned Rangers uprising was in the works.
But then Morrow pulled a nifty escape. He fell behind to Kinsler, 2-1, before blowing two 96 mph fastballs past him.
"That kid's got a pretty good arm," Kinsler said. " I thought I was on him, but he threw it right by me. I definitely felt that was a spot where I needed to come through. He threw some good pitches, but my first thought is, 'I'm better than that.'"
Morrow next got ahead of Nelson Cruz, 1-2, and struck out the Rangers right fielder to end the inning with the 4-4 tie still intact.
"I wasn't really thinking too much at that point," Morrow said. "I was just rearing back and throwing."
Millwood pitched into the seventh, but allowed singles to the first two hitters and was pulled after his 97th pitch. With runners on first and third, left-hander Ron Mahay was summoned to face lefty slugger Raul Ibanez. Mahay induced the ground ball he desired, but Ibanez pulled it far enough that Kinsler only had a play at first base. Seattle's Adrian Beltre scampered home from third to score the decisive run.
Morrow (1-0) retired nine of the first 10 hitters he faced to emerge with his first big-league win. The Rangers put two on with two out in the bottom of the eighth, but right-hander J.J. Putz came on and got the final four outs to notch Seattle's first save of the season.
"We'd have loved to score a couple more runs there," Young said, "but their pen did a good job."
Millwood (2-3) gave up five runs on 10 hits in his six-plus innings to lose his second consecutive start. He had the misfortune last Wednesday to oppose Mark Buehrle when the Chicago left-hander no-hit the Rangers.
Ichiro entered the game having never had an extra-base hit in 35 career at-bats against Millwood. But on Monday, the Japanese superstar nearly hit for the cycle against Millwood, logging a double, single and triple in his first three at-bats. His cycle bid ended with a fielder's choice grounder in the sixth and a comebacker to reliever C.J. Wilson in the ninth.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.