ANAHEIM -- When Felix Hernandez is staring at you from 60 feet, 6 inches, you understand that your margin of error is as slender as a supermodel's wrist. The last thing you want to do is help the guy out.
The Angels, letting their guard down early, were overly generous on Tuesday night.
An efficient, assertive defense fell out of character, gift-wrapping a pair of early runs that enabled the Mariners to prevail, 2-1, and drop the Angels to 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West race with 20 dates left on their schedule.
"It's a little frustrating," said Ervin Santana, who yielded two unearned runs that were too many against King Felix. "We're trying to win games. That's not how you want to lose a game, especially against that type of pitcher. You know he's going to be tough."
A crowd numbering 36,533 at Angel Stadium kept waiting for the offensive eruption Hernandez would not permit across eight dominant innings. Brandon League got the final three outs without incident for his 33rd save.
"Today we faced Felix Hernandez," said Torii Hunter, whose bunt single in the sixth led to the lone Angels run, unearned courtesy of the pitcher's throwing error. "That's the difference."
Santana would have been equal to the challenge if not for the unraveling of a superb defense. It happens at inopportune times in this humbling game.
"We have to keep our mind positive and play hard," said Santana, who fell to 11-10 with the loss. Hernandez, having beaten the Angels twice in the space of seven days, moved to 14-11.
"It's a great challenge on both sides," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said of the back-to-back showdowns. "But with Felix, if he's on his game, I don't think it matters. He's just a special pitcher with special stuff, and he was on tonight."
Silenced through five innings, the Angels finally stirred when Hunter dropped a bunt single with one out and raced to second on Hernandez's throwing error -- one of the few targets he missed. With two outs, Alberto Callaspo drove an RBI single through the middle.
Hernandez handled his shutout-ruining error with good humor.
"Oh, I should have made that play," he said. "Actually, I should have just kept the ball. He was safe anyway. I was just trying to be on ESPN."
Earlier misplays by the Angels gave Hernandez the margin for error he wouldn't allow.
"I like our club defensively," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "They play aggressively. We had a couple of miscues tonight, and we paid for it. But all in all, it's been a huge strength for us -- and will continue to be for the next 20 games."
Justin Smoak started the second inning with a single, taking third as third baseman Callaspo charged and threw wildly past second on Miguel Olivo's ground ball.
"That's a big force to get with nobody out," Scioscia said, refusing to second-guess Callaspo's decision. "It wasn't a barehand [stab]. He came in and had his feet under him. It's a feed he makes all the time, with as accurate an arm as anybody. He had him by a step, but he pulled the throw.
"It was the right play, and next time he'll make it."
When Santana bobbled Kyle Seager's spinning comebacker for an error, the bases were loaded for Trayvon Robinson, whose sacrifice fly to center brought home Smoak.
Santana left the bases loaded by retiring Brendan Ryan and he left Dustin Ackley at third base in the third inning after a single, steal and groundout.
But Erick Aybar's error on Seager's leadoff grounder led to a run in the fourth. Seager stole second, stopped at third on Robinson's line-drive single and scored when Michael Saunders tapped into a forceout.
Santana needed 110 pitches to make it through six innings on a warm night. He yielded seven hits and two walks, striking out four.
The Angels had one hit through four innings, a Bobby Abreu double in the first, and left two stranded in the fifth after a spectacular catch by Ichiro Suzuki at the wall in right robbed Vernon Wells of extra bases leading off.
That gem followed an equally brilliant play by Hunter. The rival right fielder robbed Seager of a hit and the Mariners of a run with a sprawling stab following a pair of singles in the top half of the inning.
"Sometimes, you've got to have luck," Hunter said. "Most of the time, you've got to have luck. We hit the ball hard early, but didn't have any luck."
Hernandez has held the Angels to five earned runs in 32 innings this season, good for a 1.40 ERA. He has notched 34 strikeouts against only four walks.
"His ball's moving all over the place," Hunter said. "It's cutting, slicing. The curveball is hard, slow. You've got to stay short, get a pitch to handle. You've got to try to get the ball up off him -- and good luck."
In his first appearance since sustaining a groin injury on Aug. 15, right-hander Garrett Richards worked a scoreless seventh, striking out two and allowing two hits. Horacio Ramirez, Rich Thompson and Trevor Bell collaborated to keep it a one-run game.
While the Angels were committing a season-high four errors, Aybar watched his 15-game hitting streak end. He had one of two walks issued by Hernandez, who struck out seven while allowing four hits.
The AL Cy Young Award winner in 2010, King Felix looked about as formidable as King Kong.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.