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Angels get to Felix, keep playoff hopes alive

SEATTLE -- The Angels sent a rookie pitcher to the mound against their most menacing adversary Tuesday night. The odds were significantly stacked against them, with the season dwindling and their playoff hopes in grave danger -- but they found a way to persevere, beating the Mariners, 4-3, at Safeco Field.

Backed by a three-run homer from David Murphy, a solo shot by Mike Trout and five solid innings from fill-in starter Nick Tropeano, the Angels beat the Mariners and their primetime ace, Felix Hernandez, in the second game of a three-game series.

The Angels (73-71) are now four games back of the first-place Rangers, who have won two straight against the Astros, in the American League West. For the second Wild Card spot, the Angels trail the Astros by 3 1/2 and the Twins by two, with 18 games left.

"Any time you beat a guy of that caliber, it gives you a little bit of a boost," Murphy said. "It's not like it gets you two wins or anything like that, but it gives you momentum going into the next day."

Hernandez had been charged with just five earned runs in 61 innings against the Angels since the start of the 2014 season, but gave up four runs on five hits and two walks in seven innings, falling to 17-9 with a 3.55 ERA. It was his first loss against the Angels since Aug. 23, 2013.

"I had good stuff, a good fastball, good breaking ball," said Hernandez. "It was one of those games. I gave up two homers and we lost the game."

First things first: Angels manager Mike Scioscia made a surprising decision to put Murphy in the leadoff spot on Tuesday, partly because he sported a .296/.326/.481 career slash line against Hernandez, but also to "set the table a little better for guys in the middle." Instead, Murphy cleaned up. With two on and one out in the third, the 33-year-old left-handed hitter jumped on a first-pitch, 90-mph sinker and barely got it over the right-field fence to give the Angels a 3-1 lead. It was his ninth home run of the year and it came in his fifth career start in the leadoff spot. More >

Murphy didn't change his approach because he batted leadoff, saying: "I had a runner on first and second with a Cy Young winner on the mound, so I'm going to try to be aggressive early, and I got a good pitch to hit. I think that's an approach that I'm going to take against any pitcher."

Video: [email protected]: Murphy hits three-run homer off top of wall

Cruz moving up: Nelson Cruz homered for the third time in six games since returning from his strained quad, with a first-inning solo smash to center projected at 436 feet by Statcast™. Cruz's career-high 42nd home run moved him into a tie with Baltimore's Chris Davis for the MLB lead and is the most by a Mariner since Ken Griffey Jr. hit 48 and Alex Rodriguez hit 42 in 1999. Griffey (five times) and Jay Buhner (once) are the only Mariners to ever hit more than 42.

Video: [email protected]: Cruz clobbers solo homer to center field

Making his presence felt: Carlos Perez locked down the everyday job behind the plate when he took over for a once-again-slumping Chris Iannetta in the middle of August and continues to evolve as a Major League catcher. The 24-year-old rookie has thrown a runner out in four of his last five games -- including Ketel Marte in Tuesday's first inning -- and went 3-for-4 with two doubles against Hernandez. It was Perez's sixth straight game and his eighth in the last nine games. More >

"I was just trying to be aggressive against him," Perez said. "He's always tough. Thankfully the ball fell where there was nobody tonight."

Video: [email protected]: Perez gets three hits, including two doubles

Guti drives 'em in: Gutierrez had two RBIs, one coming in conventional fashion with his 13th homer of the season -- and 10th in his past 24 games -- to cut the lead to 4-3 in the seventh. But Gutierrez's other RBI was a little more unusual as he ripped a single to left field in the fourth that drove in Seth Smith -- from first base. Smith never slowed as the Mariners caught the Angels napping, with shortstop Erick Aybar taking the cutoff at second base as Smith rounded third and scored without even drawing a throw.

"That was a heads-up play by my third-base coach," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "A lot of times it's not talked about, you know? When they send somebody and they're out, you're questioning why did they send him? When they make a great send nobody talks about it. It was a tremendous send by Rich Donnelly. … He saw two things. He saw the outfielder double clutch and he saw the infielder [Aybar] line up to second base."

Video: [email protected]: Gutierrez rips single to drive in Smith

"I don't really want to go into it. I thought it was silly right from the start. I'll just leave that alone." -- McClendon, on the benches being warned after Hernandez grazed David Freese with a pitch before Murphy's home run

Video: [email protected]: Freese gets hits, benches are warned

Trout's sixth-inning homer -- on a chest-high, 93-mph fastball -- gave him 36 on the year, tying his career high set last season. Trout and Murphy have each hit four career home runs against Hernandez. Only Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (six) and Cruz (five) have more. Trout now has a career .344 average against Hernandez (22-for-64).

"Felix is one of the top pitchers of his generation, and Mike's numbers jump out," Scioscia said. "They're unusual, because of how good [Hernandez] is, but Mike is pretty good, too."

Angels closer Huston Street was unavailable on Tuesday because of flu-like symptoms, a condition that caused him to shed 13 pounds and prompted him to be given an IV on Monday. In his place, the Angels had Jose Alvarez pitch the sixth, Fernando Salas take the seventh, Trevor Gott handle the eighth and setup man Joe Smith take the ninth, recording the save by striking out the side. More >

"I've got my appetite back," Street said after the game. "I didn't eat Sunday and I didn't eat Monday. I haven't been able to keep any food down, but I didn't want to make a big deal about it because people would want to use that as an excuse and I didn't want to use it as an excuse."

Angels: Jered Weaver (7-10, 4.71 ERA) eyes a critical series victory when he takes the ball for Wednesday's 7:10 p.m. PT series finale from Safeco Field. The 32-year-old right-hander has combined for three runs in 12 innings in two starts against the Rangers and Astros this month.

Mariners: Hisashi Iwakuma (7-4, 4.05) closes out the homestand for Seattle. The right-hander is 5-2, 3.13 in his last eight starts, including his no-hitter. He's 7-2, 2.71 in 12 games in his career against the Angels.

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Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Listen to his podcast.Greg Johns is a reporter for Read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Felix Hernandez, Nick Tropeano