By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Chicago Cubs’ nightmare bullpen almost delivered another dream scenario to the Seattle Mariners.
The Cubs, who blew saves in each of the first two games of the series, sent middling reliever after middling reliever to the mound in Sunday’s late afternoon heat.
Home run Raul Ibanez.
Two-run homer Kyle Seager.
An afternoon snoozer turned taut, nearly close enough to catch the attention of those in the beer garden.
But no tie, extra innings or walk-off Sunday. The Mariners rally from 7-1 down halted in the ninth when Cubs closer Kevin Gregg zipped through a 1-2-3 inning. The 7-6 win gave the Cubs a 2-1 series victory. Worse, it ended the Mariners’ eight-game homestand with a 3-5 record.
One game past the midway point of the season the Mariners are 35-47. Almost all the reinforcements to resuscitate a stagnant offense have been summoned. Yet, the Mariners are still last in runs scored in the American League.
The muted offense is not the fault of outfielder Raul Ibanez. He hit his 19th home run of the season Sunday, tying his total from last season. He’s tied for ninth in Major League Baseball in homers. Ibanez hit a career-high 34 homers with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. His most as a Mariner, 33, came in 2006.
“With our issues with runners-in-scoring-position issues, you look at what he does and how he handles certain situations, it’s right there in front of you to watch and learn from,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Ibanez said he made some swing alterations right before the road trip to New York in mid-May. Since May 10, he has hit 17 home runs.
“Swinging with your body together instead of in two parts, making it one part swing,” Ibanez said of the fix.
Though, he, like the rest of the club, is in pursuit of an offensive solution for the earlier innings. Ibanez homered in the eighth inning off Shawn Camp, who has a 7.04 ERA. Seager followed two batters later with his 11th home run of the season, off Hector Rondon, whose ERA is 6.08.
“This team, for whatever reason, we do the hard part well, which is we score late in the game,” Ibanez said.
That offense had little to offer against Cubs starter Edwin Jackson, however. Jackson pitched six innings and allowed three earned runs. The Mariners had a lead-off double in the first, yet never moved Endy Chavez from his station at second.
Brad Miller picked up his first big-league hit with a lead-off double in the fifth. He scored, though the Mariners could not produce a bigger inning.
Jason Bay homered in the seventh. In the eighth, the homers from Ibanez and Seager cut the Cubs’ lead to 7-6. Mike Zunino pinch hit for Henry Blanco with two on and one out, and popped out in foul territory. Chavez grounded out to end the inning.
Seattle found itself distanced from the Cubs early because Jeremy Bonderman allowed six earned runs in three ⅓ innings.
“No excuses,” Bonderman said of his outing. “It sucked.”
There was one bright spot for the Mariners pitching staff on Sunday. Ex-closer Tom Wilhelmsen threw a clean ninth inning. He’s retired 11 consecutive batters and appears to be on the road to his former crisp self.