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TEX@SEA: Smoak crushes a solo homer to right

SEATTLE -- In case the Texas Rangers forgot what they gave up in the Cliff Lee deal last July, Justin Smoak delivered a strong reminder Thursday as the Mariners' first baseman ripped his fifth home run of the season in a 3-1 victory over his former team.

The 24-year-old Smoak continued terrorizing his former team with a leadoff home run in the second inning and later launched a mammoth double to center field as he raised his batting average to .315 with a 3-for-4 night.

"It's always good to get three hits, no matter who it's against," Smoak said. "But against them, just to win is satisfaction for me. They're a great team and have great players and you just have to try to do anything you can to beat them."

Since returning from bereavement leave on April 26, Smoak has gone 12-for-34 (.353) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in nine games to put some punch into the middle of the Mariners' batting order.

Smoak's run has coincided with a rapid rise by the Mariners, who have won seven of their past nine games -- and three straight series -- to pull back into the picture in the American League West at 15-17.

Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas was the beneficiary of Smoak's support, earning his second straight victory after snapping a 13-game winless streak on Friday in Boston.

Vargas kept the Rangers scoreless for seven innings before finally getting touched for a run in the eighth, departing with a 3-1 lead as Jamey Wright came in to get the final out of that inning with a runner on third. Brandon League then came on to record his ninth straight save in the ninth.

"That's as good as I've seen him throw all year," Wright said of Vargas. "He was just in command the whole time, getting ahead of guys, and you have a lot of fun when you do that. Especially against that lineup, it was exactly what we needed to get that series win."

A night after dealing with Michael Pineda's 99-mph fastball, the Rangers got a different dose from Vargas, who controlled the game by getting ahead of hitters and keeping them off balance.

"You've got Felix and Pineda, how powerful they come," said Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan. "Then you see Vargas topping out at 88, but executing each pitch. He's so money, dotting his pitches. That cutter he was throwing in on righties, you could see how uncomfortable they were. And they couldn't sit on one pitch because he was throwing all of them on both sides of the plate. That's as good a game as you can throw, I think, against that lineup."

The Rangers managed just six hits off Vargas, who evened his record at 2-2 while lowering his ERA to 4.68.

"He doesn't throw hard, so he tests your discipline by trying to get you out on your front foot," Rangers left fielder David Murphy said after an 0-for-4 night. "That's exactly what he did. He does a good job for a guy who doesn't throw hard by working both sides of the plate."

The 7 2/3 innings of work equaled Vargas' longest start since joining the Mariners in 2009. His only longer stint in his career was a nine-inning effort against the Dodgers during his rookie season with the Florida Marlins in '05.

Vargas was helped by a nice diving stop by second baseman Jack Wilson on a Julio Borbon ground ball in the fifth, squelching any trouble there after Mitch Moreland had singled with one out.

But the lefty did most of the work on his own, getting a pair of double-play grounders and maneuvering through the Rangers' lineup with only one baserunner reaching third until Ian Kinsler doubled home Borbon in the eighth.

Besides Smoak's long ball, the Mariners added a run in the third when Ryan ripped a double down the third-base line under the glove of a diving Adrian Beltre and scored on a double by Luis Rodriguez.

The hit snapped an 0-for-21 stretch for Ryan.

"I know it's been awhile," Ryan said. "I've been working hard in the cage, trying to find some consistency. I've felt better the last couple days, I just haven't had the results."

Smoak, on the flip side, has been on a roll against everyone, but particularly against his former mates. He's now hitting .372 with three doubles, four home runs and 11 RBIs in 11 career games against Texas.

"Smoaky is just confident and having fun," said Rangers starter Colby Lewis, who took the loss despite striking out 11. "He wants to play good against his old team. He definitely had a good series."

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