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Cruz's late homer helps Felix notch shutout

MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mariners hit a go-ahead home run off Rays closer Brad Boxberger for the second consecutive game on Wednesday, this one a three-run shot off the bat of Nelson Cruz, to give Seattle a 3-0 win over Tampa Bay and a series sweep.

Boxberger came in to relieve Chris Archer in the top of the ninth and proceeded to strike out Mike Zunino and Austin Jackson to start the inning, but walked Seth Smith and Robinson Cano to bring Cruz to the plate. After getting ahead, 1-0, Cruz launched a ball over the center-field wall and into the Rays' Touch Tank. It was only the fourth home run to ever land in the Touch Tank.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mariners hit a go-ahead home run off Rays closer Brad Boxberger for the second consecutive game on Wednesday, this one a three-run shot off the bat of Nelson Cruz, to give Seattle a 3-0 win over Tampa Bay and a series sweep.

Boxberger came in to relieve Chris Archer in the top of the ninth and proceeded to strike out Mike Zunino and Austin Jackson to start the inning, but walked Seth Smith and Robinson Cano to bring Cruz to the plate. After getting ahead, 1-0, Cruz launched a ball over the center-field wall and into the Rays' Touch Tank. It was only the fourth home run to ever land in the Touch Tank.

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Felix Hernandez came out on top of the pitching duel between him and Archer. Hernandez earned his eighth win of the season after tossing a four-hit shutout. Archer surrendered just two hits in eight scoreless frames while striking out a season-high 12 batters.

"That was a great game," said Cruz, who increased his Major League home run lead to 18 with his winning blast. "Archer threw the ball amazing and Felix was Felix again. He just waited long enough so we could get the runs we needed."

Video: Must C Clutch: Cruz blasts go-ahead homer in the 9th

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A King's best friend: While Archer was racking up strikeouts, Hernandez used the double-play ground ball to maximum effectiveness in rolling to his Major League-leading eighth win. The Mariners' ace induced four double plays to maneuver through his second shutout of the season on 101 pitches, including a key twin killing in the sixth after Brandon Guyer beat out an infield single and Kevin Kiermaier was hit in the foot by a pitch. Hernandez quelled that uprising when Joey Butler hit a sharp grounder that deflected off the mound right to Cano, who stepped on the bag and threw to first.

Video: SEA@TB: Felix gets double play to end the 2nd inning

"It starts with Felix," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. "He made good pitches to induce four double plays that were big for us. He ended up facing two guys over the minimum. Just an outstanding outing and in the middle of the diamond, those guys played terrific. [Kyle] Seager was great at third. It was just an all-around great team performance." More >

Mow 'em down: Archer gave up a one-out double in the first, but was in complete control from that point on. The right-hander went on to retire the next 12 Mariner batters before allowing a single to Logan Morrison in the fifth. It would be the last hit Archer surrendered, as he allowed just two hits in eight shutout innings while matching a career high with 12 strikeouts. More >

Cruz connection: Cruz had gone four games without a home run … until he unloaded his Major League-leading 18th in impressive fashion, splashing down in the Rays' fish tank beyond the center-field fence at Tropicana Field. It was just the fourth time a ball had been hit into the Rays' tank. The blast was tracked at 430 feet by Statcast™. The Mariners set the stage for Cruz with those two-out walks, and the big man unloaded off Boxberger.

"I was just hoping it would drop where they couldn't catch it," said Cruz. More >

Boxberger's struggles: For the second consecutive game, Boxberger was called upon to keep a tie game knotted up, and for the second consecutive game, the Rays' closer allowed a ball to find the seats. After surrendering a homer to Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager in the 10th inning on Tuesday, he allowed Cruz to crush the game-winning, three-run home run on Wednesday. Boxberger had given up just two runs in 18 appearances before Tuesday night, but has tripled that number in the past two days.

"I was trying to go fastball down and away, and I left it up to a guy who can obviously hit the ball a long way," Boxberger said. "I shouldn't have even had to face him in that inning if I could have executed my pitches earlier."

QUOTABLE
"We're starting to hit our stride a little bit. We're pitching, playing defense, starting to swing the bats. I think It was a little overexaggerated that we fell off a cliff or had a country-club atmosphere in the clubhouse. I think those are unfair shots. I'm proud of my guys and very proud of the way they grinded it out today." -- McClendon, after his Mariners pulled even at .500 with a 6-3 road trip.

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The sweep was Seattle's first over the Rays since 2006 and their first at Tropicana Field since 2000. The Mariners have now won six straight games in Tampa Bay.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW
McClendon unsuccessfully challenged an out call at first when Seager was thrown out by Rays second baseman Jake Elmore on a grounder into the shift in shallow right field leading off the fifth. After a one-minute, 54-second review, the call stood. McClendon is now 4-for-8 in challenges through the first 48 games.

WHAT'S NEXT
Mariners: Seattle returns to Safeco Field on Thursday to start an 11-game homestand with James Paxton (3-2, 3.52 ERA) facing the Indians at 7:10 p.m. PT. Paxton is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA over his last five starts. This will be his first time facing Cleveland.

Rays: The Rays will make their first trip to Baltimore after their first scheduled trip there was diverted back to Tropicana Field. Right-hander Nathan Karns (3-2, 3.71 ERA) is expected to start the series opener Friday, but the Rays have yet to officially name their rotation for the weekend.

Watch every out-of-market regular season game live on MLB.TV.

Troy Provost-Heron is an associate reporter for MLB.com and Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com.

Chris Archer, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez