SEATTLE -- The drama had been building all night in what was a tense duel between the Red Sox and the Mariners.
And even when John Jaso hit a clean single to right with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox thought they would keep playing.
Cody Ross fielded the ball cleanly and made a strong throw to the plate, and Casper Wells was racing around from second. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia fielded the throw and got ready to tag Wells out, adding another highlight to a game that already had a few of them.
But in a cruel twist of fate, the ball spun out of Saltalamacchia's glove as he tried to swipe the tag on Wells. Just like that, the final was in from Safeco: Mariners 1, Red Sox 0.
If Saltalamacchia had hung on to the throw from Ross, Wells would have been out by several feet.
"The ball was hit kind of off the end of the bat to right," said Saltalamacchia. "I knew Cody was going to make a great throw, and he did. It was right on the money. I've just got to do a better job of holding onto it in a big situation like that."
There was a lot going on, and Saltalamacchia, despite his best effort, just missed on the execution.
"It was a good throw, low, on line," Saltalamacchia said. "I was just trying to stay low with it. As the ball was coming closer, I tried to block the plate, to make sure he doesn't get it. And I think as I was doing it, I was swiping in, and I think it just rattled around in my glove."
That was the final act of a riveting game, and a tremendous pitchers' duel between Felix Hernandez and Franklin Morales, who has been marvelous in his three starts since moving into the starting rotation.
"King Franklin against King Felix," quipped first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Morales went seven innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out seven.
Hernandez? He simply showed why he has been one of the best pitchers in the game for several years. Seattle's ace went the distance for the win, allowing five hits while walking one and equaling a career high in strikeouts with 13.
But give the Red Sox credit for this: They nearly beat him.
David Ortiz started a ninth-inning rally for Boston with a hard single up the middle. Saltalamacchia, after falling behind 0-2, worked a walk.
Up stepped Gonzalez, and the most entertaining at-bat of the game ensued. Hernandez got behind 3-0. Gonzalez then swung away at a fastball and missed it. The left-handed hitter fouled off four straight pitches.
With Hernandez creeping toward the 130-pitch mark, Gonzalez finally got a fastball he liked and drilled it to left-center. At Fenway, it's -- at the very least -- a wall double. The same could be said for perhaps most parks in Major League Baseball. But at cavernous Safeco, center fielder Michael Saunders had time to run it down.
"That at-bat against Adrian was the key right there," said Hernandez. "That was all I've got. I've got to get this guy out. I gave him everything I had."
All Gonzalez could do was tip his cap.
"You get to 3-2, you don't know if he's going to go changeup or curveball or if he's going to stay with his fastball," Gonzalez said. "You can't sell out all the way on the fastball. You know, he kept throwing good pitches, good fastballs middle away. He just kept spotting that fastball good, so he left one a little more over the plate. I was able to hit it well. I hit it good -- just not great."
So instead of going to closer Alfredo Aceves to protect a lead, the Red Sox went to Scott Atchison in the bottom of the ninth, the game still scoreless.
Atchison has come up big all season for Boston, but this was not his night. With one out, Wells cranked a double to left-center.
"I left it up," Atchison said. "First pitch, they're aggressive, I know that. I've just got to get the ball off the plate a little bit in that situation and not let him be able to drive something."
The Red Sox issued an intentional walk to Justin Smoak. Jaso hit for Miguel Olivo, and he got the job done.
"I made a couple of bad pitches," Atchison said. "Unfortunately it ruined a great outing by Franklin. It was a great game to watch if you're a fan of pitching, both those guys. You know, it happens. Unfortunately you don't want to let the team down, but we'll get back after it tomorrow."
The best early chance the Red Sox had against Hernandez came in the third. Mike Aviles belted a two-out single to right and moved to third on a single by Daniel Nava. Up stepped Dustin Pedroia, and he hit a bullet to left-center. But the liner was hauled in by Franklin Gutierrez to end that threat.
"That's a big momentum swing," Pedroia said. "We had some guys on and had some good at-bats. It was one of those things where the ball kind of hung up there and he ran it down, but I've got to be better offensively to help us."