ARLINGTON -- After eight games spread over two weeks, two continents and 15,000 miles of air travel, the Mariners finally headed to Seattle on Thursday night to open their home schedule.
They would have liked to bring home a parting gift from their travels, but instead dropped a 5-3 decision to the Rangers that puts their record at 4-4 heading into Friday's Safeco Field opener with the A's.
There was no more ninth-inning magic Thursday, but the Mariners felt they established a tone of solid starting pitching and a competitive squad on the verge of good things after playing the defending American League champions tough for the four-game series.
The Mariners went 1-3 in Arlington and are 3-13 at Rangers Ballpark since the start of 2011. Texas southpaw Derek Holland continued his success against Seattle, giving up two runs and five hits with no walks and eight strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.
But after a rough opener by Hector Noesi on Monday, Seattle got solid starts from Blake Beavan, Kevin Millwood and Jason Vargas, who combined for a 2.84 ERA on six runs over 19 innings in the final three games against the potent Texas lineup.
"You've got to feel good about the way the guys pitched, especially in this ballpark," said Seattle manager Eric Wedge. "I felt they really did a good job -- especially Millwood and Vargas -- making some adjustments early to get on track and get us deep into ballgames. We're still settling into things, particularly with the bullpen, but that will come."
Now the Mariners just need to get their young offense on track. Kyle Seager hit a solo home run Thursday and heads home with a .321 average. Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki sit at .303, but the big bats in the middle of the lineup haven't produced much power yet and Seager's homer was just the fourth in eight games for the Mariners.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan noted that Seattle only had one leadoff hitter reach base in nine innings Thursday, not a good formula for a team trying to create runs.
"That makes it tougher when we're not hitting the ball out of the yard," Ryan said. "It'd be nice if we could have Kyle hit three times in the order, but that's not the case. Hopefully he keeps it going and we all pick it up a bit around him."
Holland, 25, improved to 6-1 in his career against Seattle with a 3.07 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings. Other than Seager's solo shot, the Mariners touched him for just an RBI single by Alex Liddi in the sixth after Ryan led off with a double.
Liddi's base hit broke a string of 22 2/3 shutout innings by Rangers starters dating back to the second inning of Yu Darvish's debut on Monday. Seager, starting at second base, cut the lead to 3-2 with his seventh-inning blast.
"Seager is really hot right now," Holland said. "He's swinging a good bat."
Seager said he caught a rare Holland mistake, a slider up that he drove 438 feet into the upper deck in right.
"It was a pitch up in the zone I could handle," said Seager. "He'd been so tough on all of us all night. Everybody knows he's got such a good fastball, but he was throwing that slider and curveball for strikes so you couldn't just gear up for the fastball. He made it tough."
Seattle did cut the margin to 5-3 when Miguel Olivo singled home Jesus Montero in the ninth off Michael Adams, but pinch hitter Michael Saunders grounded out for the final out.
Vargas took the loss, allowing four runs on seven hits for 6 2/3 innings as his record evened at 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA after three outings.
After Vargas gave up a run in the first, he retired 12 of the next 14 batters before the Rangers scored a pair in the fifth on a home run by Michael Young that just carried over the right-field fence for a 3-0 lead on a ball that didn't appear that well struck.
"Play to the field. It was one of those ones when you hit it to right field, anything can happen over here," said Vargas. "They were able to take advantage. Michael was just able to stay on top of that one and shoot it the other way. I wouldn't say that I'd take that pitch back because it was fairly quality with what I was trying to do with it."
After Seattle closed to 3-2, Texas tallied twice more in the seventh, with rookie reliever Erasmo Ramirez giving up an Ian Kinsler double to allow Vargas' final run to score, then a Young single for his fourth RBI in a 3-for-4 day.
The Mariners are ready to get home after a Spring Training that started Feb. 11 and then included the Tokyo trip before a season-opening road swing.
"That sounds like a set-up for excuses," said Ryan. "But it's no secret. We'd be lying if we said it wasn't wearing on us a little bit. Even when we go home it's still going to feel like we're on the road for a little bit. But it'll be nice to unpack and hopefully get started off on the right foot.
"We'll have Felix [Hernandez] and King's Court going Friday and it should be a good atmosphere. Hopefully we can do better than we did out here in Texas."