Mariners' Hernandez Dominates In A 4-2 Win Over Texas

Sunday, September 30th 2007, 9:36 pm
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ The Seattle Mariners missed the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season and sprayed beer all over their clubhouse anyway.

Felix Hernandez pitched into the ninth inning and J.J. Putz got one out to earn his career-high 40th save, leading the Mariners to a 4-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday.

Seattle won its final five games to finish 88-74, a 10-game improvement over last season and good for second place in the AL West after three straight years in last place. It's the only team in the major leagues to increase its win total in each year since 2004.

But the Mariners were 20 games over .500 and leading the wild-card race on Aug. 25 before losing 15 of 17 games while the New York Yankees surged past them and into the postseason.

``Absolutely I think everyone in here realizes we have a team that can compete and contend,'' Putz said. ``We're really close. Maybe one or two players away.''

Despite another fall without a postseason, team chief executive Howard Lincoln announced Thursday that general manager Bill Bavasi, who arrived before the 2004 season, and McLaren _ who went 43-41 after Mike Hargrove abruptly resigned during an eight-game winning streak July 1 _ will both return next season.

``We feel good going into the offseason,'' McLaren said.

The Mariners cracked open cans of beer and sprayed the suds in the clubhouse to celebrate career minor leaguer Jamie Burke's first homer in the bigs. His solo drive off of A.J. Murray (1-2) in the second tied it at 1.

Burke also had a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt in the fourth to make it 3-1.

Hernandez (14-7) allowed four hits and two runs before he was pulled with two outs and none on the ninth so Putz could become the second Mariners reliever with 40 saves. Kazuhiro Sasaki had 45 in Seattle's 116-win season of 2001.

``That was probably the toughest decision I made all year,'' McLaren said. ``We wanted Felix to get the complete game, but I felt like J.J.'s been there all year. He deserved 40 saves.''

Hernandez tipped his cap to a roaring crowd as he walked off the mound. He struck out eight, walked none and hit a batter with a pitch. Putz struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the game.

Murray allowed four runs and five hits in six innings. The rookie struck out five and walked two in his second major league start for the Rangers, who finished 75-87, a five-game decline in Ron Washington's first season as a major league manager after 11 years as a coach.

Washington called his managerial debut a success.

``Very rewarding,'' he said. ``We didn't do much in the way of a record, but we got an opportunity to see some kids grow.''

Rangers slugger Sammy Sosa didn't play in the finale. He finished his comeback season with 21 homers, 92 RBIs and a .252 average in 114 games _ with 87 starts as a designated hitter. He batted .341 with five homers and 17 RBIs in his final 10 starts.

Sosa said he hopes to be back with Texas next year.

Notes: Jose Lopez hit his career-high 11th homer in the sixth off Murray. ... The Rangers have finished with a losing record in seven of the eight seasons since they last won the division in 1999.