SEATTLE -- Back up from the Minor Leagues so he could fill the rotation spot left by the ailing Curt Schilling, Kason Gabbard found himself with one major problem Tuesday night at Safeco Field. His command, which is one of the key reasons the Red Sox seem to call on him whenever they need a spot starter, did not make the trip with him to Seattle.

Gabbard found himself out there on the mound throughout the first inning without any weapons. It led to a short night (3 1/3 innings, six hits, four runs, six walks) for the lefty that turned into a long one for his teammates.

The Red Sox fought the good fight on a night Felix Hernandez was the opposing pitcher, but they were ultimately outlasted by the Mariners in an 8-7 slugfest.

"We were just kind of slugging it out tonight, and they came out on top," said Sox left fielder Eric Hinske, who homered on a night he was subbing for Manny Ramirez. "We hit the ball pretty well. Just kind of back and forth. That was a big home run by [Richie] Sexson."

The long ball Hinske was referring to came in the bottom of the sixth inning with the game tied at 6. It was then that the powerful Sexson unloaded on a 1-0 pitch from Javy Lopez for a two-run homer to right. The way the game had swayed back and forth, nobody figured at the time that Sexson's shot would decide the night, but it did.

"It was supposed to be a sinker away," said Lopez. "It probably came down middle, middle third. Just trying to work him away. Obviously had some success [Monday] with the same kind of pitches. Made a mistake tonight, but what are you going to do?"

That was pretty much what manager Terry Francona was saying in the dugout when it was left up to Lopez, primarily a lefty specialist, to face the right-handed-hitting Sexson.

Because a Boston starter was unable to go five innings for the second successive night, Francona had limited options, particularly with Joel Pineiro unavailable because of a twisted right ankle.

"That's a tough situation," Francona said. "Javy can get anybody out, but we're not matched up probably the best in the world there."

Safeco Field, as gorgeous as it is, has developed into an unattractive sight for the Red Sox, who have lost seven in a row here dating back to July 22 of last season.

It will be up to Daisuke Matsuzaka to try to avert a sweep in Wednesday afternoon's finale. The Red Sox have not been swept in a series of more than two games all year.

As bad as this one looked early, the Red Sox hung in there all the way. For after Sexson's tiebreaker, the Red Sox had a rally in them in the eighth. Coco Crisp led off with a walk. Dustin Pedroia singled to right, putting them at the corners with nobody out. On came lefty George Sherrill, who blew a 91-mph fastball by David Ortiz.

Mariners manager Mike Hargrove went to closer J.J. Putz early and it paid off. Kevin Youkilis delivered a sac fly to get the Sox within one. But Putz than slammed the door closed, getting J.D. Drew on a groundout.

In the ninth, Putz went right through the Red Sox, striking out Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek and pinch-hitter Ramirez on a filthy, 95-mph offering.

"He's good," said Youkilis. "He's got great stuff and he's been good for a long time. His numbers don't lie. He's as good as his numbers (1.02 ERA, 22 saves) say."

Hernandez is pretty good too, though he's had better nights. This one got off to a promising start for Boston. Crisp and Pedroia opened the game with singles, giving the Sox one more hit than they had off Hernandez over nine innings in Boston on April 11.

Youkilis roped an RBI single to right to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. The inning could have been far more productive for the Sox than it was, as they had the bases loaded with nobody out. But Drew struck out and Lowell hit into a double play. Then again, consider the opposition.

"We were facing a great pitcher tonight," said Francona. "You're facing a guy with velocity in the upper 90s with a slider and a breaking ball. We did a pretty good job. I guarantee you they felt pretty good with that lead, and we fought back and got him out of there. He's got good stuff."

To put it kindly, Gabbard was all over the place in the first inning. After striking out Ichiro Suzuki to open the game, the lefty issued a walk, a single, a walk, a hit batter and two more walks to make it 3-1.

"Warming up in the bullpen, I felt great," Gabbard said. "After Ichiro, I just got out of the groove a little bit and then couldn't really get back in the groove and just tried to battle as best I could. I just think when I was out of the stretch, I was a little too quick, and obviously my two-seamer was sailing a lot. When I'm not throwing that for strikes, it's pretty hard to pitch."

Instead of settling down in the second, Gabbard started it by issuing a leadoff homer to Willie Bloomquist.

"He struggled with his command," Francona said. "A lot of pitches, walks, hit batsmen. The one thing that sticks out is even through all the troubles, he's always one pitch away from the double play, because he's got that two-seam movement. Just has to trust his stuff and throw strikes."

The Red Sox continued to battle hard against Hernandez. Crisp opened the third by reaching on an error, and he eventually scored on another RBI single to left by Youkilis. Lowell banged out a two-run triple to left-center in the fifth to tie it at 4.

But reliever Manny Delcarmen handed the lead right back to the Mariners in the bottom of the inning, surrendering an RBI single by Bloomquist and a sac fly to center from Ichiro to make it 6-4.

On and on the roller-coaster went. Hinske, making the start in place of Ramirez, opened the sixth by unloading for a solo homer to right. With two outs, Ortiz smacked an RBI single to left off reliever Eric O'Flaherty and it was tied up again.

"A lot of key hits," Francona said. "You look at who they had pitching tonight, I thought we had a lot of key hits. I thought we showed a lot of fight and spirit to come back. We got that thing tied."

But Sexson untied it for good.