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TEX@SEA: Cust's single gives the Mariners the lead

SEATTLE -- Jack Cust has the misfortune to hit in bunches, as in bunches of defenders.

As one of the game's most notorious pull hitters, invariably, opponents will shift three infielders to the right side against the Mariners' left-hand-hitting DH. It's a strategy that drastically reduces the space for his balls to slip through.

That's why it was particularly gratifying for him on Tuesday, when he was able to deliver a game-winning single through a narrow right-side hole in the eighth inning as the Mariners came back to beat the Texas Rangers, 4-3.

Down, 3-2, entering the eighth, Adam Kennedy opened with a bloop single to left off reliever Pedro Strop. Jack Wilson pinch-ran for him. Miguel Olivo placed a bunt in front of the plate, but Strop slipped trying to field it.

Justin Smoak then drilled a one-hopper to first base that caromed off Mike Napoli's glove. Wilson scored and Olivo advanced to third.

Darren Oliver entered to face Cust. However, with two runners on, the infield shift with not as exaggerated. Shortstop Elvis Andrus was positioned behind second, not to the right of it. The infield also was drawn in to cut off the potential run at the plate. With a slightly more room, Cust then stroked his game-winner just to the right of second baseman Ian Kinsler.

"It is frustrating because a ball like that is an out. Usually, that's where the shortstop's standing. One swing and I'm sitting on the bench," Cust said. "It's more difficult, but that's why we have scouting reports.

"With the infield in like that, it opens up a lot, especially for me. I hit a lot of balls up the middle. [Kinsler] was still close to it."

Cust, who struggled much of April, now has a six-game hitting streak.

"I felt he started to get it going in Boston," manager Eric Wedge said. "You see him in BP. You see his takes in the game. You see his swing in the game. And prior to that [single], he had a couple hard outs. So it was great to see him step up for us."

The Rangers had taken the lead in the top of the eighth inning on a squeeze bunt by pinch-hitter Andrus. Julio Borbon opened with a clean single to left off David Pauley. Kinsler bunted him to second, then Borbon stole third.

Rangers manager Ron Washington called for the squeeze, and it worked so well that Borbon scored and Andrus legged out a hit without a throw.

Pauley (1-0) picked up the win. Brandon League worked the ninth to pick up his eighth save in eight opportunities.

Erik Bedard, who labored with a 33-pitch first inning, went seven innings, allowing two runs on two hits.

"He really had to work in the first inning, so to give us seven strong innings, that says a lot just how far he's come," Wedge said. "He continues to take steps from start to start. He did a really good job of commanding the baseball game."

It's the first time Bedard has gone at least seven innings in back-to-back games since May 2 and May 7, 2008.

It was a strange first inning for Bedard. He faced six batters but didn't give up a hit, allowing one run.

He walked the first two batters. Then with one out, Chone Figgins booted a ground ball, allowing Kinsler to score from third. Nelson Cruz flied out and Napoli struck out looking.

Rangers starter Alexi Ogando avoided a Mariners threat in the second. A walk to Olivo, a bloop single by Smoak and pitch that hit Cust in the right thigh loaded the bases with no outs. Michael Saunders then went down looking and Ryan Langerhans went swinging.

That left Brendan Ryan, hitting just .184, as the final hope. On an 0-and-2 count, he ripped a line drive that seemed destined to clear the bases. But Kinsler leaped to snag it.

Ogando again found himself in a two-on, one-out jam in the third. The Mariners scored one when Smoak bounced a two-out RBI double into the right-field seats. Kennedy would have scored a second run but was sent back to third because of the ground-rule double. Cust then grounded out to second -- again against a modest shift.

For as much as Bedard struggled early, he still carried a no-hitter into the sixth. Kinsler ended that with a leadoff double into the left-field corner. Andres Blanco sacrificed him to third. With the infield drawn in, Michael Young drilled an RBI single just under the glove of second baseman Kennedy for a 2-1 lead.

"Bedard is a great pitcher. You saw why he's been one of the best pitchers in the game," Kinsler said. "We hit a couple of balls hard that got caught, but he still pitched a great game."

The Mariners responded in the seventh to tie it. Ryan Langerhans singled off Strop. Ryan, trying to bunt on a 1-and-2 count, pulled the bat back as Strop threw a wild pitch. Langerhans reached second.

Wedge had Ryan bunt again with two strikes, and he placed it in front of the plate. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba threw it to third, but Langerhans' elusive slide avoided the tag.

Ichiro Suzuki followed with a double play to short, with Langerhans scoring.

The Mariners have won five of their last six games.

"It's always gratifying, anytime you can help a team win," Cust added. "When you're winning ballgames, everything is better, no matter what your stats are." Comments