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Mariners wield power bats in opener

Mariners wield power bats in opener

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ARLINGTON -- A play third baseman Adrian Beltre has attempted in the past worked so well on Monday night that it could have been the difference between the Mariners winning their 40th game of the regular season and losing their 66th.

An extra-base barrage that included four home runs -- two of them by Beltre -- gave the Mariners a one-run lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning. As it turned out, that lead would be sufficient for Seattle to escape the Texas heat with an eventual 7-5 victory in front of 21,742 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Included in the season-high four home runs were the first of first baseman Bryan LaHair's Major League career and Raul Ibanez's 15th of the season. Ichiro Suzuki, needing two hits to reach 3,000 in his two-country professional career, had one -- a triple -- and second baseman Jose Lopez extended his career-high hitting streak to 15 games with a single in the fourth inning.

But it was how the Mariners pulled this one out of their collective hat that drew most of the attention.

All it took was a planned play, a strong throw and a quick tag that took the oomph out of the Rangers' promising eighth inning.

Left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who had not allowed a run in his previous 17 relief appearances, entered the series opener with a one-run lead, and promptly surrendered a single and walk, putting two runners on base with nobody out. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position and brought interim manager Jim Riggleman out of the third-base dugout for a group session on the mound.

"I told the infielders where I wanted them to position themselves," he said. "At that point, I didn't want to play for a tie game, so I told them to play in an area where they could throw the guy out at home, and it would be on me if a ball went through and two runs scored."

The chances of that happening seemed to tilt in the Rangers' favor. Coming to bat next was Josh Hamilton, the Major League RBI leader and the star of the All-Star Home Run Derby.

With a 2-and-1 count on Hamilton, Beltre looked at catcher Kenji Johjima and flashed the pickoff sign.

Hamilton swung and missed, Johjima came out of his crouch quickly and made a strong, accurate throw to Beltre, who had dashed over to the third-base bag. Ramon Vazquez was tagged out, for the second out of the inning, and Rhodes finished off Hamilton, striking him out with a slider.

"It was a good play between Johjima and A.B.," Rhodes said. "They put it on pretty nice, and that's what wins ballgames, right there. After I saw it happen, I told myself, 'Get this guy out right here and I don't care how. Ground ball, fly ball or strike him out.' I didn't want him to get a hit and tie the game."

Suzuki, who tripled in the seventh inning for the 2,999th hit of his professional career, gave Seattle a two-run lead with a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth.

It was the play in the eighth inning that probably won it for the Mariners, however.

"We looked at each others' eyes and decided it was a good time to try it," Johjima said through his interpreter. "In that situation, they were up by one run with the No. 1 hitter up. It's the best time to try it, although it also is a big risk.

"I have been through a lot of situations like that, where I threw the ball well, but it hit the runner and the guy ended up scoring. It's very risky, but I have confidence in myself."

The fact that Hamilton swung and missed the pitch played even more into the Mariners' hands.

"It helps when the batter swings, because it brings the runner more toward home plate," Johjima explained. "If he did not swing on that play, I do not think it would have got [Vazquez]."

Beltre said he could recall trying that play, but could not remember it working.

"It takes a lot of guts on both guy's part," Riggleman said. "We've all seen a lot of those balls go flying into the outfield, and it begins to look like a Little League game."

Beltre gave the Mariners and right-hander Felix Hernandez a three-run lead in the first inning with a line-drive home run into the first row of seats in right field, his 17th of the season.

The Rangers answered Seattle's three-run getaway with two runs in the bottom of the inning.

Rangers shortstop Michael Young, who left the game in the second inning because of a broken ring finger on his right hand, singled home one of the runs, and David Murphy produced the second with a sacrifice fly.

LaHair increased Seattle's lead to two runs in the second with his first career home run, which extended his hitting streak to five games.

He circled the bases quickly before heading into the third-base dugout for some high-fives.

"They told me to be humble," he smiled. "Raul said there will be many more to come, but my main focus is not to hit home runs, but to get on base."

The outcome made the night even sweeter.

"It was awesome, and to win the game is icing on the cake," he added.

Right-handed reliever Sean Green picked up the win, and right-handed closer Brandon Morrow notched his 10th save in 12 save chances.

Beltre finished the long-ball barrage in the eighth inning with his 18th of the season, a prodigious blast onto the grass in straightaway center field.

It was the 18th multi-home run game of his career, and second this season. The first came on May 30 against the Tigers.

On this night, however, he will be remembered more for using his head than his bat.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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