"To win the division, you have to beat No. 1's, and both those guys are No. 1's," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We know we have a battle when we face those guys, but we were ready for it."
Darren O'Day, Chris Ray and Frank Francisco followed Harrison to the mound, each with one scoreless inning, and the Rangers have now won four of their last five games to get back to the .500 mark at 12-12. Francisco, facing the top of the Mariners lineup in the ninth, picked up his second save in a role that may be becoming "co-closer."
Both Francisco and Neftali Feliz pitched on Friday night. Manager Ron Washington said he called upon Francisco on Saturday because he wanted his experience against the top of the Mariners' order, with Ichiro Suzuki leading off.
"With the best part of their lineup, I just felt [that] Frankie's experience fit," Washington said. "As long as we get the three outs ... whoever is out there is the closer."
There is also an old saying in baseball that whoever is the starting pitcher that day is a team's No. 1 starter. That probably doesn't quite fit Harrison, but this is twice in a month that he has out-pitched Hernandez in a face-to-face matchup.
The two met in the fifth game of the season in Arlington, and Harrison was leading 3-1 when he left the game after six innings. The Mariners rallied in the ninth to win that game. This time, the Rangers held on to give Harrison his first victory of the season.
"They made it tough on him, but we needed a grinder out there, and he stood on that mound and grinded it out," Washington said. "Today was a big day for Harrison."
This was Harrison's first victory since May 14, 2009, when he pitched a complete game in a 3-2 victory over the Mariners. Hernandez also started that game.
"It definitely feels good," Harrison said. "I haven't had a win in almost a year, so it's definitely a boost of confidence."
Harrison needed an extraordinary 127 pitches just to get through six innings, while allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits and three walks. He struck out three batters. All seven hits were singles, including three in the infield, and the Mariners were 2-for-8 off him with runners in scoring position.
Two double plays in the first two innings were also crucial when Harrison was still having trouble finding his rhythm. The Mariners loaded the bases with one out in the second inning when Harrison forced Rob Johnson to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Harrison's 127 pitches were the most by a Rangers pitcher since May 2, 2004, and the second most by a pitcher in the Majors this year. Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez threw 128 on April 18, during his no-hitter.
"Early in the game I had a lot of 3-2 counts," Harrison said. "My rhythm was out of whack. I slowed myself down, started commanding my pitches and got into a groove. I started throwing strike one and strike two. After the second inning, I finally got on a pace where I could command the game."
Hernandez could never do that. Instead, the Rangers were able to squeeze out three runs off him in the second inning and never relinquished the lead the rest of the afternoon. A misplay in that inning by Mariners left-fielder Milton Bradley may have been the biggest play of the afternoon.
The Rangers loaded the bases with no outs on singles by Ian Kinsler and David Murphy, and a walk to Justin Smoak. Hernandez struck out Matt Treanor, but Julio Borbon's grounder to first scored the Rangers' first run.
Elvis Andrus followed with a lazy fly to left-center, and a crowd of 30,225 fans watched in disbelief as neither Bradley nor center fielder Franklin Gutierrez appeared to make an effort to catch it. The ball fell for a two-run double. Apparently, Bradley thought Gutierrez would catch it, but the center fielder was playing Andrus toward right-center.
"I saw it completely," Bradley said. "I didn't pick up Guti before the pitch because I automatically thought he was standing right there. But he shifted over, and the ball landed in. I looked up and he was looking at me. I was like, 'Oh, shoot.'
"I'm out there trying to catch everything. It was just one of those plays. If you want to blame me, I'll take the blame. I'm used to that."
The Rangers weren't worried about blame. They had a three-run lead, with a starter on the mound who wasn't going to let it get away.