Mariners eliminate AL champ Rays from postseason

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—The Tampa Bay Rays will not get the chance for a second straight championship season.

Jose Lopez(notes) hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning and the Seattle Mariners beat the Rays 4-3 Tuesday night, eliminating the defending AL champions from the postseason.

“It’s not the way we wanted this year to end,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “But, I like the way we’re hanging together. I think we learned a lot this year in regard to it’s not easy to repeat. You can never assume that it’s just going to happen again because you were so good the previous year. It’s very humbling. We’ll be back next year.”

Ichiro Suzuki(notes) had a two-run homer for the Mariners, who ended Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak.

Lopez gave Seattle a 4-3 lead on his 25th homer this season, coming off Dan Wheeler(notes) (4-5) with one out in the eighth.

“It’s over with. You just go on and look forward to 2010,” Wheeler said of the Rays, who are 77-74 this season.

Tampa Bay stunned baseball in 2008, posting its first-ever winning season (97-65) en route to the AL East title and a trip to the World Series.

“We had our opportunities and we let it slip away,” Tampa Bay left fielder Carl Crawford(notes) said. “Hopefully we learn from it and just comeback next year and compete.”

Miguel Batista(notes) (7-4) struck out three over two perfect innings before Mark Lowe(notes) pitched the ninth for his third save.

“Batista was outstanding,” Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said.

B.J. Upton(notes) drove in two runs for Tampa Bay, which has won five of eight after an 11-game losing skid. Nine of the 14 losses over the 19-game stretch came in the eighth inning or later.

Seattle took a 3-1 lead on Suzuki’s 11th homer of the season in the fifth. He moved into a tie with Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski for 248th place all-time with 2,016 hits.

Ryan Rowland-Smith(notes) was lifted with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth. Upton got Tampa Bay to 3-2 with a run-scoring single off Mariners reliever Shawn Kelley(notes). After pinch-hitter Crawford was retired on a pop foul, Jason Bartlett(notes) tied it on a sacrifice fly. Pinch-hitter Gabe Gross(notes) then struck out to end the inning.

Rowland-Smith allowed three runs, six hits and four walks in five-plus innings. Tampa Bay rookie Jeff Niemann(notes) failed in his fifth attempt to win his 13th game, giving up three runs, four hits and four walks over 6 2-3 innings.

Upton put the Rays ahead 1-0 with an RBI single in the second. Tampa Bay later loaded the bases with one out, but failed to increase its advantage when Gabe Kapler(notes) popped out and Evan Longoria(notes) flew out.

“We had so many opportunities to score more runs,” Maddon said. “It really comes down to that. We applied a lot of pressure to the end of the game.”

Seattle pulled even at 1 on Adrian Beltre’s(notes) run-scoring single during the fourth. The Mariners are 32-17 in one-run games this year.

NOTES: Seattle closer David Aardsma(notes) wasn’t used because of back stiffness. He might be able to pitch on Wednesday. … Mariners C Kenji Johjima(notes) (sore left knee) was back in the lineup after missing one game. … Crawford and 2B Akinori Iwamura(notes) were both out of the lineup against the left-handed throwing Rowland-Smith. … Mariners 1B Russell Branyan(notes) (back) might take batting practice Tuesday. OF Ryan Langerhans(notes) (back) was not availble, while C Rob Johnson(notes) (left ankle) should play Thursday. … Seattle ace Felix Hernandez(notes) (16-5) is set to make three more starts this season, including Thursday and the final game of the regular season.

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