By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
BALTIMORE — They hear the jokes from Felix Hernandez and company. Jabs about their age, digs about their gray hairs, taunts about their old man clothes, but Raul Ibanez and Henry Blanco pay them young whippersnappers no mind.
Kids these days.
Instead, they go about their daily routines that have kept them in baseball longer than most of their peers. They won’t go gently into that good night.
On Sunday, the two old men had one more brilliant day in the sun. Ibanez and Blanco — a combined 83 years, 1 month and six days of age — paired up to drive in all of the Mariners runs in a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. The win gave the Mariners a series win and helped ease the pain of the horrific sweep in Boston.
That the win came from the bats of Old Man River and Older Man River made it just a little more fun.
“How about that?” Mariners acting manager Robby Thompson said.
Ibanez, who turned 41 on June 2, delivered as he has done all season in the second inning. Michael Morse led off with a double to right off Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen. Ibanez followed with a laser into the right-center gap for an RBI double, giving the Mariners a 1-0 lead.
“We thought about sitting Raul today because of a day game after a night game,” Thompson said. “But with his presence in the lineup, it’s hard to keep him out of there.”
For the next four innings Mariners starter Joe Saunders made the 1-0 lead stand up. He’d fought his way through it, posting five scoreless innings, despite the leadoff hitter reaching base in four of them and not working a clean inning.
“I was thinking to myself, it must be nice to get a 1-2-3 inning because it just wasn’t happening today,” Saunders said. “They made me work.”
Yet it looked like all that work fell apart in the sixth inning. Saunders walked Steve Pearce to lead off the inning and then hung a changeup to Orioles’ designated hitter Danny Valencia, who blasted it into the seats in left-center for his fifth homer of the season. Saunders was able to retire the next three hitters to get out of the inning. But as he walked off the mound, he screamed a few things in frustration that could be heard over the din of the 30,759 in attendance
“Not happy, not happy at all,” he said. “I had a few choice words for myself.”
But Saunders (10-10) spirits soon shifted dramatically.
Blanco, who turns age 42 on August 29, came up with two outs and Brendan Ryan, who had walked, on first. After falling behind 0-2 to Chen, he yanked a fastball into left field seats for a two-run homer, giving the Mariners a 3-2 lead.
“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run there,” Blanco said. “I was trying to get a pitch to put the ball in play and see what happens. I just hit it pretty good.”
Of his nine hits this season, Blanco has three home runs, including two grand slams.
“This game is funny,” Saunders said. “You go from an ultimate low to an ultimate high when Hank gets that huge hit off of a really good pitcher in Chen (6-4). It was unreal.”
It’s unreal that Ibanez and Blanco are still in the big leagues and contributing. There are only a handful of major league position players over the age 40. It’s due to their almost obsessive commitment to training in the offseason. Ibanez has long been an advocate of advanced training methods and nutrition. It’s been that way his whole career. It’s a way of life.
“It’s hard work and a lot of physical training,” he said. “It’s maintaining a high level of activity and fitness. It’s not something you can start doing. It’s something that’s cumulative. If you train hard for a period time it has a cumulative effect. The same as if you are inactive for a period of time, it has a cumulative effect.”
Blanco has become a major proponent of the “Insanity” workout videos and does them daily.
“You’ve got to do it,” Blanco said.
Given a 3-2 lead, the Mariners’ bullpen, the subject of much consternation and source of many upset stomachs, nailed down the win.
Yoervis Medina pitched two perfect innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced, including Manny Machado and Adam Jones.
“The slider was pretty good,” Blanco said of Medina. “Since I got here, I haven’t seen his slider work that well. Obviously, he’s got a pretty good arm. It was good to day step out and do your job.”
With a 3-2 lead going into the ninth, Thompson handed the ball over to rookie Danny Farquhar for the second straight day.
The little right-hander got some immediate help from his defense. Pinch hitter Luis Urrutia scalded a line drive off of Farquhar to right field. But Brad Miller, who was playing second base for a resting Nick Franklin, made a diving snag of the ball for the first out of the inning.
“It’s a little different angle,” Miller said. “But I’m just glad I got to that one.”
Farquhar was more than glad.
“Unbelievable play by Brad Miller,” he said. “One out and nobody on base is night and day difference as opposed runner on first and nobody out. I think that saved the game.”
Technically, Farquhar saved the game. He struck out pinch hitter Matt Wieters and got Nick Markakis to pop out to pick up his second save in as many days.