Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernández are both off to a scintillating start, and that combination was too much for the Los Angeles Angels to overcome.
Cruz hit his major league-leading 14th home run hours after being selected AL Player of the Month for April, and Hernández won his fifth straight decision to begin the season as the Seattle Mariners beat the defending AL West champions 3-2 on Monday night.
Cruz hit a leadoff shot against Matt Shoemaker that snapped a scoreless tie in the seventh. It came in the Mariners' 26th game, tying Cruz with four other players for the most homers at that stage of a season. The others were Cy Williams (1923 Phillies), Albert Pujols (2006 Cardinals), Alex Rodriguez (2007 Yankees) and Mike Schmidt (1976 Phillies).
"I've found a way to stay consistent, and that's the key," Cruz said.
Hernández (5-0) allowed a run and six hits in seven innings while striking out eight and lowering his ERA to 1.73. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner became the first Seattle starter since 2001 to win his first five decisions. That year, Aaron Sele started 8-0, Freddy Garcia 6-0 and Jamie Moyer 5-0.
"I felt strong, I had good stuff, was throwing a lot of strikes and mixing it in with my breaking ball and changeup," Hernández said.
Logan Morrison and Seth Smith also homered off Shoemaker (2-2), who was 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his four previous starts against the Mariners. The right-hander yielded four hits through 7 1-3 innings with 10 strikeouts.
"I was very encouraged today until the seventh inning. But those few mistakes can cost you the game," Shoemaker said.
Both teams entered this series having been swept in their previous one — the Angels in three games at San Francisco and the Mariners in four games at Houston.
Two batters after Cruz connected on a 1-2 pitch, Morrison sent a shot deep into the right-field stands for his fourth of the season — using Cruz's bat.
"I started using it when I had a four-hit game in Texas. So I thought, oh, I guess I'm going to be using this the rest of the year," Morrison said.
Matt Joyce, who came in batting .141 in his first season with the Angels, got one of the runs back in the bottom half with his first homer on Hernández's 98th pitch.
Until then, Hernández had not allowed a home run in 41 innings since Angels star Mike Trout took him deep in the first inning of his season debut April 6.
Smith restored Seattle's two-run lead in the eighth with a drive to right on Shoemaker's 90th and final pitch. The three solo homers increased Seattle's total to 27 — most in the majors with the bases empty.
Fernando Rodney closed for his eighth save in nine attempts. He gave up a home run to David Freese after retiring Kole Calhoun on a fly to the warning track. The game ended when catcher Mike Zunino threw out pinch-runner Collin Cowgill trying to steal second on the first pitch to C.J. Cron.
"We knew there was a possibility he'd go," Zunino said. "Rodney's not the quickest to the plate at times, but we had him slide-step there because we were anticipating that. We went with a fastball there to give us a little bit of extra time. Obviously when you see them send a guy in there to pinch run, you feel they're going to try to get him into scoring position."
Hernández ended the first inning by retiring Calhoun on a called third strike for his 1,989th career strikeout, surpassing Johan Santana for the most by a Venezuelan-born pitcher in the majors. Calhoun was 0 for 3 against Hernández and is 1 for 21 lifetime with eight strikeouts.
"Johan is one of the great lefties in the game, so for me it's a great honor to pass a guy like that," Hernández said.