Nothing Slowing Rangers Run To AL West Title

Nothing is slowing down the Texas Rangers' run to their first AL West title in 11 years.

Not bankruptcy. Not one of the most contentious, drawn-out sales of a professional sports team. And certainly not the dreadful Seattle Mariners.

David Murphy hit his second go-ahead home run in two nights, this one to break through against Felix Hernandez, and Tommy Hunter resumed his excellence as the Texas Rangers cruised to a 6-0 victory over Seattle on Thursday night.

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Murphy drove in the game's first two runs with his seventh homer of the season in the seventh, on a first-pitch fastball from Seattle's $78 million ace.

"He's a guy you've got to get early. You don't want to face him with two strikes," Murphy said of Hernandez, last season's runner-up for the AL Cy Young Award. "I was just looking for something up."

Up describes Hunter, again. The 24-year-old right-hander (9-1) had lost for the first time this season in his previous start, allowing eight runs at the Angels. That was five more runs than he'd allowed in any of his first 10 starts after debuting on June 5.

On Thursday, he pitched 6 2-3 scoreless innings against the worst offensive team in the major leagues to up the Rangers' lead in the AL West to a season high-tying 8½ games over the idle Athletics.

This time, he used more changeups than he said he'd ever thrown to baffle the easily fooled Mariners with runners on base.

Hunter credited veteran catcher Bengie Molina, acquired from San Francisco in a trade last month, for righting him.

"I just go with him," Hunter said of pitch selections. "He got me out of a lot of jams tonight. He's GOOD."

The Rangers also welcomed the news that they were approved Thursday to exit bankruptcy following the auction of the franchise and sale to a group led by Texas hero Nolan Ryan the night before. They begin a three-game series at Oakland on Friday.

Hernandez (7-9) lost his fourth consecutive decision -- even though his ERA remained steady at 2.94, sixth-lowest in the AL. Seattle has gone 18 innings since last scoring while he's been on the mound, and has scored nine runs total in his nine losses.

An example of such nonsupport: Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez singled to begin the sixth. But then baseball's worst offensive by nearly all statistical measures got in succession a pop up by Jose Lopez, a fielder's choice grounder by Adam Moore, a pop out by Michael Saunders -- and the latest in a season-long chorus of boos.

Embattled manager Don Wakamatsu just stared and then walked back down into the dugout without an expression over another opportunity lost.

Seattle finished 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10 baserunners.

"You've got to score runs to have a ballgame," a frustrated-sounding Wakamatsu said. "We're not getting the job done."

Then it got worse. Following a single by Vladimir Guerrero to begin the seventh, Murphy drilled a 95 mph, first-pitch fastball deep to left field. Saunders ran back, looked and turned, then slammed into the wall with his right shoulder while trying to track the ball. The impact jarred Saunders from extending his glove as the ball went over it and the top of the wall for a 2-0 lead for Texas.

"Just my luck," Hernandez said.

He allowed eight hits with those three runs in 6 2-3 innings. He walked one and struck out three, tying a season low.

Such a rally is often all that is needed to subdue these Mariners. Seattle scored fewer than three runs for the 51st time in 109 games this season.

No wonder it is 40-69 and 23½ games behind the Rangers.

The lone Seattle bright spot: Franchise cornerstone Ichiro Suzuki caught a fly ball at the right-field line in the second inning. He then let his momentum carry him to the railing of box seats, where he handed the ball to a stunned, grade school-aged boy. The boy raised the ball and his other hand in the air triumphantly, turned to the rest of the crowd and held his mouth agape, amazed at his souvenir delivered by a superstar.

NOTES: Suzuki had two doubles to pass Hall-of-Famer Pee Wee Reese for 181st all-time in hits. Suzuki has 2,171 hits in 10 seasons. Reese had 2,170 in 19 years, ending in 1958. ... Texas RHP Darren O'Day pitched a scoreless eighth and now has 23 1-3 consecutive scoreless innings over his last 25 appearances. That's the longest active scoreless streak in the majors. ... Saunders later left the game and Wakamatsu said his jammed shoulder and neck would be evaluated Friday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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