SEATTLE -- Put in position to look over their shoulders for the first time this season, the Texas Rangers haven't blinked at the so-called competition.
The Rangers continued to keep the rest of the American League West at arm's length Friday night, beating the Seattle Mariners 9-5 while red-hot Oakland and Los Angeles desperately try to stay within reach.
Texas (31-17) used 13 hits, including home runs from Jeff Baker and Lance Berkman, and survived a rocky start from Justin Grimm to improve on the best record in the AL. All nine starting position players, as well as first-off-the-bench pinch-hitter David Murphy, had hits as the Rangers' bats awoke after a three-game slumber to take a 9-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Mariners (20-28) had 14 hits of their own but ended up extending their losing streak to seven games, the franchise's longest in more than a year. Four Mariners had multiple hits, led by third baseman Kyle Seager's two doubles and a single.
Seattle starter Joe Saunders, who had allowed just four total runs in 28 2/3 innings of his first four starts at Safeco Field this season, gave up six earned runs and eight hits in five innings. It marked the first time in 14 career starts at Safeco -- mostly as a visiting pitcher -- that Saunders took the loss.
He now has a 9-1 career record and 2.23 ERA at Safeco.
Friday marked the fourth time in 10 starts this season that Saunders (3-5) has allowed six or more earned runs. The veteran southpaw has a 6.46 ERA this season, making him the third starter in Seattle's five-man rotation to have an ERA above 6.00.
Grimm (4-3) made it into seventh inning despite an outing that saw him give up 10 hits, including eight in the first three innings. The Mariners scored one run in each of those innings but couldn't get much offense going again until the bottom of the ninth.
Texas ended up using five relievers, including closer Joe Nathan. He faced just one batter, striking out Michael Morse to strand two runners on base while picking up his 15th save of the season.
The Rangers used two home runs to jump out to a 5-2 lead through the top of the third. Baker hit a two-run shot off Saunders in the second, then Berkman added a three-run homer in the third.
Saunders allowed more runs in the first three innings (five) than he had in 28 2/3 innings of his previous four starts at Safeco Field this season (four).
Seattle gave Saunders an early lead when Kendrys Morales took advantage of an infield shift for a two-out, RBI single and a 1-0 advantage in the bottom of the first.
After Baker's home run, the Mariners added a run in the second to tie the score 2-2. Berkman answered that with a three-run homer into the upper deck of left field in the top of the third, giving Texas a 5-2 lead.
Seattle added a run in the third, stringing together three consecutive hits to cut the lead to 5-3. Raul Ibanez's RBI double scored Morales while leaving runners on second and third before Rangers center fielder Craig Gentry tracked down a well-hit ball from Justin Smoak to end the threat.
Texas got to Saunders again in the fourth, with three consecutive singles to lead off the inning. Elvis Andrus' sacrifice fly scored A.J. Pierzynski from third to give Texas a 6-3 lead.
The two teams combined for 16 hits and nine runs in the first five innings.
Mariners catcher Jesus Sucre, who was called up from Triple-A Tacoma earlier in the day, had a memorable and rather controversial first big-league at-bat in the second inning.
Sucre grounded into a 3-6-3 double play, even though Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland never touched the ball on the final force play.
Andrus tagged second base for the first out, then threw to Moreland at first. The throw arrived just before Sucre got to the bag, but Grimm caught the ball just in front of Moreland's mitt. Grimm was nowhere near touching first base, but umpire Jeff Nelson called Sucre out because he believed the throw ended up in Moreland's glove rather than Grimm's.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge burst out of the dugout to argue the call, but the double play stood. Fortunately for Seattle, the Mariners still got a run out of the rally when shortstop Brendan Ryan followed Sucre's at-bat with an RBI double to tie the score 2-2.
NOTES: The Mariners made three roster moves before Friday's game, selecting Sucre from Triple-A Tacoma, recalling IF Carlos Triunfel from Tacoma and designating IF Robert Andino for assignment. Andino, 29, had been named the team's starting shortstop earlier this month because of the struggles of Ryan but was hitting just .184 for the season. ... Friday marked the first time the Rangers have faced a left-handed starter since May 11, a string of 11 consecutive games against right-handed starting pitchers. ... Veteran IF Mark Teahen, whom the Rangers signed to a minor-league contract on Thursday, reported to Triple-A Round Rock on Friday and was playing third base and hitting sixth in the order.