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SEA@CWS: M. Saunders drills a two-run homer in eighth

CHICAGO -- Mariners ace Felix Hernandez came up just short against both the White Sox and history on Saturday as Seattle dropped a 4-3 decision at wind-swept U.S. Cellular Field.

Hernandez remains stuck at 99 career wins, and his three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings put him at 1,498. Only Bert Blyleven, Walter Johnson and Dwight Gooden have reached the combination of 100 wins and 1,500 strikeouts before the age of 27.

Hernandez will celebrate his 27th birthday on Monday, so this was his last chance to pull that off. But he was more worried about just beating the White Sox on this blustery day in Chicago, and that opportunity evaporated when he gave up four runs and six hits before giving way with the bases loaded in the seventh.

"The stuff was there today, but it was the command. That was the problem," said Hernandez. "When I don't have my command, it's tough to pitch."

On a day fielders sweated to track down high flies and several well-struck balls died in the outfield after being knocked down by the brisk breeze, Hernandez declined to blame Mother Nature for his difficulties.

"I don't know if it was the wind. It was just me," Hernandez said. "I was opening up too much. I was going too quick. It was me. It was not the wind."

White Sox right fielder Alex Rios laced a two-run home run when Hernandez elevated an 0-2 changeup in the sixth inning to break up a 1-1 tie, and the White Sox pushed across another run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly after reliever Charlie Furbush replaced Hernandez following his 108th pitch of the day.

The Rios pitch was the one Hernandez wanted back at day's end.

"There was just one mistake -- the homer. That was about it," he said. "When it left my hand I thought, 'That's going to be up.' It was a changeup, and I was trying to go down, but it didn't work. It was a good call, but a bad changeup."

The veteran Rios was batting .208 with nine strikeouts in 24 at-bats in his career against Hernandez when he finally touched him for his first home run.

"Felix, Verlander -- those are veteran guys that know what they're doing out there," Rios said, referring to Tigers ace Justin Verlander. "They know how to locate; they know what pitches to throw in certain situations. When you put a good swing on a mistake like that and do some damage, that's pretty good."

Rios said Hernandez wasn't his typical self in this one.

"He wasn't as usual. He throws 94, 95 and he was in the low 90s today," said Rios. "He threw that pitch right over the plate, and I took advantage of it."

While Hernandez didn't allow a hit until one out in the fourth, manager Eric Wedge acknowledged this certainly wasn't vintage Hernandez after his ace threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings in his debut against the A's on Opening Day.

"I don't think he had his best stuff today," said Wedge. "He always competes and pitches, but he didn't quite have the same fastball he typically has, and I think that probably leaked into his secondary stuff."

Hernandez is now 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in two outings. His record fell to 1-5 with a 4.88 ERA in eight career starts at U.S. Cellular, where the Mariners are now 5-25 since 2010.

Michael Saunders pushed a two-run opposite-field homer off Matt Thornton to cut the margin to 4-3 in the eighth, but the Mariners stranded two runners later that inning and finished the day 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

"We had some scoring opportunities late, we just didn't come up with anything," said Wedge. "We had three or four opportunities I felt where with one swing of the bat it's a different ballgame."

Seattle managed just three hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings against White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod. That tally was an unearned run in the second when Raul Ibanez doubled, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a hard shot by Dustin Ackley that was ruled an error when first baseman Jeff Keppinger couldn't backhand it.

The Mariners appeared to have something going in the fifth when Justin Smoak singled and Ackley walked. But Kelly Shoppach couldn't get a bunt down and wound up striking out and Brendan Ryan pulled a hard grounder down the third-base line that Conor Gillaspie fielded as he fell on the bag for the force, then fired to first to get Ryan and end the inning.

Seattle also left runners at first and second in the sixth when Ibanez struck out against Donnie Veal and the veteran outfielder stranded two more in the eighth when Jesse Crain struck him out after Saunders had homered to make things interesting.

"I left a couple chances out there," said Ibanez. "I didn't get it done. I've got to be better than that."

That could be said of the Mariners offense in general as the club is hitting .224 through six games and takes a 3-3 record into Sunday's series finale against the White Sox.

"Every single game we've played this year we've had runners on base and are just missing that timely hit in the gap or whatever it may be," said Saunders. "But we fought hard, we were in the game the entire way and gave ourselves an opportunity. If we do that over the course of the season, we're going to win a lot of ballgames."

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