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Offense, Lofton carry load vs. Mariners

Offense, Lofton carry load vs. Mariners

SEATTLE -- Rangers manager Ron Washington met with shortstop Michael Young and Mark Teixeira before Friday's game, asking his two team leaders to help keep morale up in the clubhouse.

"I just wanted to remind them that it's their clubhouse and let's stop any problems before they get started," Washington said. "We all know what the problem is, but everybody's busting their tails out there, so let's keep it that way."

The Rangers' problems manifested again on Friday night, as starter Kevin Millwood allowed seven runs in five innings and the defense behind him was shoddy at times.

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But the Rangers' offense kept piling up the runs, the bullpen picked up Millwood and center fielder Kenny Lofton made up for all previous defensive sins with a dazzling catch, all combining to give the Rangers a 9-8 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.

Lofton had the go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning of seesaw game with a sacrifice fly, but it was his incredible catch in the bottom of the seventh that was the play of the game.

"A game-saving play," Washington said.

The Mariners had Kenji Johjima at first with one out in the seventh in an 8-8 game when Adrian Beltre blasted a pitch from Joaquin Benoit to deep left-center. Lofton raced back to the wall, timed his leap perfectly and snatched a home run away from Beltre.

"When he hit the ball, he hit it pretty good so I thought it was probably gone," Lofton said. "But you never know, in this ballpark it could go or it could die, so I said I better get back there."

Lofton then fired the ball back to the infield to double off Johjima.

"I was so excited, I was like a little kid out there," right fielder Marlon Byrd said. "I was trying to give him a high-five, and he wanted to see if he doubled off the runner. I wanted to hug him."

Ian Kinsler then led off the eighth with a double, went to third when Gerald Laird beat out a sacrifice bunt for a base hit and scored on Lofton's sacrifice fly. After the Rangers had let three other leads slip away, Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne made this one stand up.

The Rangers committed two errors, tied a club record by leaving 17 runners on base and were 4-for-23 with runners in scoring position. They ran five relievers out of the bullpen. But they still were able to outlast the Mariners.

"It was a circus, a rollercoaster," Kinsler said. "But it feels good to be back on top of one of those. I'm not saying it was a big win, but it was a good one to win."

If nothing else, the Rangers won with Millwood on the mound, doing so for the first time since April 28 and only the second time since April 13. He has been on the disabled list twice with strained hamstring but had no physical problems on Friday night.

But he allowed seven runs on 10 hits, although only four were earned because of the two errors behind him.

"I felt good," Millwood said. "I felt my mechanics were good, I just didn't have any luck whatsoever other than we scored a lot of runs. That wasn't what I was expecting, but we won."

It's a first step for the Rangers and their beleaguered starting rotation. Rangers starters are 14-28 with a 6.45 ERA on the year, and pitching coach Mark Connor, talking before the game, made it clear that can't continue.

"I'm not having a whole lot of fun," Connor said. "I hope the starters aren't having a whole lot of fun either. This is not fun. Being down 3-0 or 4-0 in the fourth, it's tough for the offense.

"The Yankees went through the same thing with their starters. You're not going to score nine runs every night. As a starting rotation, you have offense a chance to get going. You're not going to score six or seven runs in the first inning."

The Rangers are working hard trying to get their rotation together. Getting Millwood back is the first step. Connor and Robinson Tejeda had an extended session in the bullpen before the game in an effort to get his delivery more compact and quick, and both felt he was better.

Brandon McCarthy throws in the bullpen this weekend to test the blister on his right middle finger in the hopes he can pitch a simulated game on Tuesday and pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 9. Kameron Loe goes on Saturday. Vicente Padilla? He's healthy, but Washington said he has to get better.

They all do. The Rangers were saved by Lofton and the bullpen on Friday night, but it still comes down to starting pitching.

"It's all predicated on starting pitchers," Connor said. "Our bullpen can be one of the best in the game, but our relievers are not going to perform like this if we have to continue using them like this the rest of the year.

Washington is hoping his team won't give up until the Rangers can fix the problem. That's why he met with Young and Teixeira and why Connor had some strong words for his pitchers in a meeting earlier this week in Oakland.

"Nobody is happy, but you can't sit back and say woe is me," Connor said. "The other team is not going to feel sorry for you. The other hitters are not going to feel sorry for you when they step in that box. They're going try to knock your head off. You have to keep grinding."

T.R. Sullivan 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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