By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Seattle Mariners’ 88th defeat of the season came and went like so many of them have this season. The starting pitcher – Joe Saunders in this game – had one bad inning, a four-run second inning, which ultimately was too much for the Mariners’ punchless offense to overcome because of lack of timely hitting.
But what made Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels significant in a season filled with far too many of them was that it represented a step back from last season. This loss eclipsed last season’s total of 87. And with seven games left in the season, the chance of losing a few more is highly likely. A season with 90 losses isn’t out of the question.
While the loss had the significance overall failure for the team, within the defeat there was individual accomplishment.
In the ninth inning with the Mariners trailing 6-4, Raul Ibanez crushed a pitch off of Angels’ closer Ernesto Frieri into the right-field stands for a solo home run.
It was Ibanez’s 29th homer this season tying Ted Williams’ record for the most home runs hit in a season by a player over age 40. It also was the 300th home run of his career.
He achieved two milestones with one swing.
“Obviously, it’s a great honor and I’m privileged to be in this situation,” said the 41-year-old Ibanez. “I feel blessed to be playing this long and get this opportunity.”
Admittedly, it was more of an opportunity than even Ibanez expected when he signed with Seattle for a third stint this past offseason. He’s played in 119 games this season, which wasn’t quite predicted.
“Things have a funny way of working themselves out, I came into this situation where I probably wasn’t going to play that much, but due to injuries and other things I played a lot more than I was going to,” Ibanez said. “I’m thankful.”
One of those “other things” was his production at the plate. He was one of the Mariners’ most productive hitters in the first half of the season.
“We had high expectations for him as a teammate, a player and a person, but he’s probably surpassed that if that’s possible,” Wedge said. “Individually, you don’t expect for him to do what he’s been doing this season. There were times when he carried us in the first half. He’s still getting his hits now and hitting the big ball every once in a while.”
Ibanez even got a few hat tips from Angels’ players as he rounded the bases.
“What a great accomplishment for such a great human being,” Wedge said. “Everybody is rooting for him not just in our dugout but around baseball. He’s a caretaker for the game of baseball. That’s the best compliment I can give him.”
Ibanez, of course, talked about the loss more than his achievement. It was that way as he watched the ball sail over the fence.
“Honestly, I was thinking if I hadn’t tried to make that play on that sinking line drive, we’d still be playing,” Ibanez said. “I was thinking it would be 5-5 game.”
The sinking line drive Ibanez was referring to came in the seventh inning off the bat of Collin Cowgill. The ball skipped under the glove of a diving Ibanez and rolled to the wall for a triple. A batter later Cowgill scored from third on an attempted suicide squeeze play.
Saunders (11-16) tried to pitch out on the play but fired the ball high and wide of catcher Henry Blanco and went to the backstop.
“I knew it was coming, but it was just when in the count,” Saunders said. “I had a change-up grip and I tried to throw it high so he couldn’t bunt it. It just kind of sailed on me a little too far outside for Hank to catch it.”
It was the decisive sixth run of the game.
“That ended up being huge,” Saunders said.
But really the game was lost in the four-run second inning for the Angels.
Three of the four runs Saunders gave up in that inning came on one swing of the bat. With one out and bases loaded, rookie Grant Green hammered a 3-2 pitch down the left field line for a bases clearing double.
“With a 3-2 count, I was just trying throw a strike and he hit in the perfect spot,” Saunders said. “After that I was just trying minimize damage.”
But a leadoff walk to Mark Trumbo and a one out walk to Cowgill which loaded the bases led to the damage. They were the only two walks Saunders issued on the night.
“Even with the walks, they were good pitches,” Saunders said.
Saunders gave up a single an RBI single to Romine before stopping the bleeding.
“That was the backbreaker that second inning,” he said.
Saunders did what he intended and minimized damage after that, retiring 13 of the next 14 hitters he faced. The one hit was a solo homer from Cowgill.
He worked seven innings, tossing 125 pitches and allowing the six runs on six his and tied a season-high with nine strikeouts.
“Joe threw the ball well,” Wedge said. “I thought the last couple of outings he’s thrown the ball well. He had that rough inning. They give us every opportunity, but that inning got him.”
The Mariners had runners on every inning but one, but still only managed the five runs, four of them after the sixth inning. Going for 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 runners on base doesn’t help.
“That’s been our biggest issue all year offensively,” Wedge said.
Seattle got a run in the third on a fielder’s choice, a run in the seventh on balk call with Abraham Almonte at third and two runs in the eighth on an RBI single from Dustin Ackley and a sacrifice fly from Almonte. Ibanez’s homer was one of two extra base hits the Mariners managed all night.
Jerome Williams (9-10) got the win and Frieri got the save.