By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners touched down in New York City on May 13 with Raul Ibanez in a funk.
He was already playing more than he or the Mariners planned after he signed a one-year deal in the offseason. A night later, Ibanez went 2-for-4 with a homer in Yankee Stadium. It was the start of a two-month rampage.
Ibanez homered twice Friday night in the Mariners’ 8-3 win over the Anaheim Angels at Safeco Field, helping Seattle snap a three-game losing streak.
The 41-year-old’s average was just .194 when he hit the bright lights of New York. He had just three home runs.
Now, he’s hitting .264 with 24 home runs after a 3-for-4 night again made him the load-bearer in Seattle’s recently vivacious offense.
“Who would have thought?” Ibanez said. “Just kind of go day by day.”
Ibanez’s thunderous first-half run continued in the fourth inning Friday when he hit a Jerome Williams fastball 438 feet into the second deck of right field. He was the first to launch a baseball into that part of Safeco Field since Mike Carp did so Aug. 29, 2011.
That home run — his 23rd — blew the cork out of the champagne bottle for Seattle’s offense. Kendrys Morales followed with a single, Kyle Seager walked, Justin Smoak made an out on the warning track in center field. Mike Zunino singled. Dustin Ackley singled.
The Mariners thumped Williams until manager Mike Scioscia had to pull him from the game before the fourth inning ended. That four-run fourth pushed the Mariners up 6-0.
Ibanez started the scoring in the first with a sizzling double to right-center. Seager whacked a home run to right — his 15th of the season — in the second to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. He’s one of three major league players this season to have at least three hitting streaks of 10-plus games, joining Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.
Seager has hit safely in every game since being moved to fifth in the order June 30. He says being able to watch how Ibanez is pitched has helped him.
“Watching him in general is going to help you out, the way he goes about everything,” Seager said. “Obviously, he’s doing an amazing job for us. His influence in the clubhouse is just as big if not bigger.”
Seager’s homer gave the Mariners at least one home run in 20 consecutive games, a club record.
The brisk early offense required Joe Saunders (8-8) to do what two Mariners starters could not during the three consecutive losses to Boston: hold an expansive lead.
He did. Saunders used a blend of well-spotted fastballs, dipping changeups and sliders to stifle the Angels. In seven innings, he gave up no runs and a mere five hits.
“We really needed him to step up for us tonight,” manager Eric Wedge said. “I thought he did a great job of being aggressive, especially early in the count.”
The Mariners have two All-Star filled games remaining before the break. Felix Hernandez takes the mound Saturday. Hisashi Iwakuma will try to shake his recent doldrums Sunday before each head to New York for the All-Star game Tuesday.
They’ll be backed by what has been a spirited offense during the last five home games. The Mariners have scored 38 runs since Monday.
“We’ve shown signs of it, but nothing as consistent as what you’re seeing right now,” Wedge said.