ARLINGTON -- Veteran right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma gave the Mariners what they desperately needed with a strong seven-inning start Sunday, but a couple defensive lapses spoiled that effort as the Rangers finished off a series sweep with a 3-2 win at Globe Life Park.
This one stung a little more even than the first two games, when Seattle's pitching simply fell flat out of the gate in allowing 17 runs to the Rangers. Iwakuma ended those troubles -- and indeed a longer trend that had seen Seattle's starters post a 9.33 ERA over their last nine starts -- as he allowed just four hits and one earned run.
But alas, it was two unearned runs -- courtesy of a pair of errors and a mental mistake by left fielder Stefen Romero -- in the Rangers' three-run fifth that left a bitter taste from this setback.
"I can't say enough about the job Kuma did," said manager Scott Servais. "That was exactly what we needed and probably the best he's been all year, against a hot team. He did a great job. He was aggressive, he attacked the zone, he was very prepared. He knew what he was going to do with all the guys. It was a very professional outing at a time we really needed it.
"I'm excited about that. I appreciate his efforts. Unfortunately, we kind of gave them the game, in my opinion. Defensively we didn't make some plays that inning, they put a three-spot up and that was kind of the end of the story."
A fielding error on shortstop Luis Sardinas opened the door, but it was Romero's mental miscue -- failing to throw the ball in quickly on a fly to shallow left field as Elvis Andrus deked him by pulling up and then breaking to the plate and scoring the tying run as Romero hesitated and then threw a soft lob when he got caught off guard by the aggressive bolt home.
"Shallow-hit ball, I was coming in hard," Romero said. "When I caught it, my first instinct was he's going to probably fake break or something. So I caught it, came up and there was no movement, so I kind of double-pumped and then threw it in and tried to just hit [Kyle] Seager and that's when he just took off."
And while Servais felt Sardinas is a good enough shortstop to make the play on the short-hop he booted, it was the mistake by Romero that stuck in his craw.
"Routine play, catch it, get it into the infield," Servais said. "I'm not quite sure what he was thinking there, but in the big leagues you have to come physically and mentally ready to play every day. Because these are the best players in the world. And when you let down mentally, it can get you. That's what it was more for me. It was a mental mistake, not so much physical."
Iwakuma fell to 4-5 with the loss despite pitching what both he and Servais felt was his best game of the season. But the 35-year-old knows it's a team game and the Mariners offense had helped him out with 37 runs in his previous three wins, so he wasn't about to point fingers.
"We're all trying to win the ballgame," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "Things like that happen. We came back and put zeroes back on the board. We still had our chances, but in the end we came up short."
Romero knew what was at stake, though. Since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma, he's played only nine games. And while he drove in the tying run in Wednesday's 16-13 comeback win in San Diego, the former Oregon State standout will have a hard time shaking this one.
"It's frustrating," he said. "It was a pitcher's duel. Hits were at a premium. Whoever got lackadaisical, or … they just capitalized on our errors."
Nelson Cruz, who hit a two-run homer to give Seattle its short-lived lead, acknowledged this was a tough way to end a difficult series.
"They beat us the first two games," Cruz said. "Today we lost the game. It's different. Nothing we can do. We can't feel sorry for ourselves, we have to step up and tomorrow figure out how to win games. Any loss is hard, but the one's you have, you should keep."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.