ARLINGTON -- As he walked off the mound in the ninth inning, Rangers closer Frank Francisco heard the boos from the fans at the Ballpark in Arlington. "I wish it could be the opposite," Francisco said. "All I can do is work hard, come back and bring my 'A' game." His "A" game is not there yet. For the second time in three days, Francisco could not close out a Rangers victory. On Saturday afternoon, the Mariners scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning and snatched a 4-3 victory away from the Rangers.
The Rangers led, 3-1, going into the ninth on an afternoon when fifth starter Matt Harrison outdueled Felix Hernandez, the Mariners' 19-game winner from last season. "We had a chance to get Felix and we finally got to him," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We just couldn't get the last three outs of the game. I don't think anybody in the clubhouse feels worse than Frankie." Francisco also gave up three runs in the ninth inning on Thursday in a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays, leaving him 0-for-2 in save opportunities in the first week. There could be another save opportunity on Sunday, but it might not necessarily be Francisco who gets the call. "Stay tuned," Washington said cryptically. Thursday and Saturday had one other thing in common. Neftali Feliz preceded Francisco to the mound and retired the side in order in the eighth inning. But it would still seem unlikely that Washington would make a change at closer right now this early in the season. "I'd just like to see him get those three outs in the ninth inning, and he would, too," Washington said. "Nobody wants to get those outs worse than Frankie. ... He's our closer." Francisco's velocity is down but he is not concerned about that. He insists he is healthy. Early postmortems suggest his location is off, but Washington said he wants to talk it over with pitching coach Mike Maddux before making an official diagnosis. "I really don't care about velocity," Francisco said. "My fastball is good enough to get people out." The Rangers are now 1-2 on the season when leading after eight innings. They were 77-3 in such situations last year. "It's not that tough at all," third baseman Michael Young said. "Anytime we can give our closer the ball in the ninth inning, we feel confident. He'll be fine. We'll keep getting him leads and he'll start locking it up. These things are not as devastating as people think they are." Harrison went six innings and allowed just one run on six hits, a walk and a hit batter. He struck out four. Harrison, who had shoulder surgery last summer and was making his first start since June 23, allowed eight of the first 18 Mariners batters to reach base but then retired the last seven he faced. "I was excited but under control," Harrison said. "I couldn't locate my offspeed [pitches] early, and that got me in trouble. But as the game went on, I got my release point down and started getting the ball over." Harrison trailed, 1-0, going into the fifth before the Rangers manufactured a couple of runs with the help of Mariners second baseman Chone Figgins' throwing error. Nelson Cruz's fourth home run in five games made it 3-1 after six innings. Dustin Nippert, who pitched the seventh, and Feliz, kept it that way. The Rangers might have had a bigger cushion except for the fact that they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. But Washington was hardly agonizing over that, not when Hernandez was the opposing pitcher. "When you're facing a guy like Felix Hernandez, you're going to miss opportunities," Washington said. "When he gets in trouble, he gets to bearing down and making pitches. He's a tough guy. When you get three on him, that's enough to beat him." The Mariners' ninth-inning rally started when Casey Kotchman led off with a grounder up the middle for a single. Rob Johnson drew a walk and Jack Wilson then bunted the runners to second and third. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a bloop single to right-center that scored Kotchman, and Ken Griffey Jr., pinch-hitting for Figgins, singled to left-center to chase home Johnson with the tying run. Suzuki went to third on the play and then Matt Tuiasosopo pinch-ran for Griffey. Darren O'Day replaced Francisco, but Franklin Gutierrez put the Mariners ahead with a single to left. The Rangers have now lost three of their first five games. "It's really disappointing," Cruz said. "We expected to win. We had the right guy on the mound. But it's still early, and we believe he can do the job."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.