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After Paxton goes 5, bullpen can't preserve lead

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- The Mariners' bullpen -- a strength for much of May -- went awry for a second straight night on Wednesday, as the Rangers rallied late for a 7-6 victory that took a little luster off a spectacular month for James Paxton.

Paxton was pulled with a 4-2 lead after five innings, but a relief crew that had allowed just one run in 27 1/3 innings prior to Tuesday's 9-5 loss couldn't slam the door again, as Texas scored four runs in the seventh.

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SEATTLE -- The Mariners' bullpen -- a strength for much of May -- went awry for a second straight night on Wednesday, as the Rangers rallied late for a 7-6 victory that took a little luster off a spectacular month for James Paxton.

Paxton was pulled with a 4-2 lead after five innings, but a relief crew that had allowed just one run in 27 1/3 innings prior to Tuesday's 9-5 loss couldn't slam the door again, as Texas scored four runs in the seventh.

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The Mariners have won nine of their past 12 games, but they missed a second straight chance to pull into a first-place tie with the Astros atop the American League West, instead remaining a game back at 33-22.

"Our bullpen has been our strength for such a long stretch of games, but it's kind of gotten away from us a little," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "It wasn't our night tonight. We've been playing really good ball, but we've gotten a little sloppy with the walks and some other stuff that has hurt us."

Paxton needed 32 pitches to get through a fifth inning in which he escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam, and he was lifted after 89 pitches in his shortest outing since April 21, when he went just four frames at Texas.

Video: TEX@SEA: Paxton works through bases-loaded jam in 5th

"That was high-leverage, bases-loaded, none out, tough to get out of," Paxton said. "I felt fine, but they told me they wanted to take me out because they'd been riding me lately, pitching deep in ball games with some higher pitch counts. They wanted to give me a little bit of a break, and let the bullpen take care of it."

The big lefty allowed two runs on four hits with five strikeouts and four walks. He finished May with a 3-0 record and 1.67 ERA in six starts, while walking nine with 51 strikeouts in 43 innings.

"It was a great month," said Paxton, who threw the first two complete games of his career, including a no-hitter, in May. "There were a lot of good things that happened there. I felt good, like I made some strides with my approach, and I'm just going to try to keep on going here."

The chance for Paxton's fourth win of the month slipped away when Texas tallied four runs off Ryan Cook, Marc Rzepczynski and Juan Nicasio in the seventh.

Nelson Cruz ripped a two-out RBI single in the ninth to pull Seattle within a run before Rangers closer Keone Kela got Ryon Healy on a grounder to third for the final out. Cruz went 3-for-5.

Video: TEX@SEA: Cruz plates Gamel with a single in the 9th

Jean Segura went 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a run scored and has hit .430 (34-for-79) over his last 18 games to raise his average to .333. Mike Zunino had a pair of doubles in a 2-for-3 night with two runs scored.

The Mariners lost back-to-back games for the first time since May 16-17. They had won eight of their previous nine one-run decisions.

Video: TEX@SEA: Segura drives in Span with a sacrifice fly

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Paxton's escape act: Paxton appeared in deep trouble in the fifth when he loaded the bases on a single by Ronald Guzman, a 13-pitch walk to Hanser Alberto and a six-pitch walk to Delino DeShields. But Paxton dug in and struck out Shin-Soo Choo looking on a 97-mph fastball, got Isiah Kiner-Falefa to fly out to shallow left and finished the frame on a groundout by Nomar Mazara to preserve his 4-2 lead.

"Pax has had an unbelievable May for us, and we've ridden him really hard," Servais said. "As the 13-pitch at-bat is going on, I'm not feeling very good about things, because the pitch count is starting to get up. Then, he walks him, and before you know it, they've got the bases loaded. To his credit, he dug way deep and got through it. Coming out of that inning, I thought it was best to pull back on him and go to the 'pen. It didn't work out tonight, but I trust those guys down there. They've been doing a good job for us for an extended period. It just hasn't worked out the last two nights."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Cruz is known more for smacking home runs than baserunning, but the big fellow had a belly slide in the fifth. He stretched a single into a double, raising a few chuckles from his teammates as he dove early and had just enough momentum to slip under the tag.

"Nelly is all in," Servais said. "You can see he's feeling better at the plate. He's got that little smile on his face again, which is good, because he wasn't real happy with things there for a while. When he sniffs those doubles, he's going to find a way to get there. And he was just barely safe."

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
It's pretty rare for a team to load the bases and then score runs on a passed ball and wild pitch, but the Rangers did it in a two-pitch sequence by Mariners reliever James Pazos on Tuesday night, and Seattle returned the favor Wednesday by scoring twice on a wild pitch and then a passed ball while Matt Moore was facing Gordon Beckham in the fourth. Kyle Seager scooted home on the passed ball by catcher Robinson Chirinos, and Zunino crossed the plate after the wild pitch as Seattle took a 3-2 lead.

Video: TEX@SEA: Zunino scores on Moore's wild pitch in 4th

UP NEXT
Veteran southpaw Wade LeBlanc closes out the four-game series against Rangers lefty Mike Minor on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. PT at Safeco Field. LeBlanc has allowed just five earned runs in 26 1/3 innings over five starts since moving into the rotation. The Mariners are 4-1 in those games, but he's still seeking his first win as a starter since Aug. 19, 2016, in his previous stint with Seattle.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, James Paxton