By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There aren’t many six-run losses that can be traced to a routine pop fly, but one might have played out Thursday.
The Tampa Bay Rays ended up routing the Seattle Mariners 7-1 at Tropicana Field. But the game was tied in the fifth inning when Tampa Bay’s Sean Rodriguez changed everything by lofting a short fly just beyond second base.
Shortstop Brad Miller and second baseman Nick Franklin both went after the ball, both called for the ball, and then both watched the ball drop between them.
With the door opened, the Rays barged through for a four-run inning.
“A communication letdown there,” Seattle’s acting manager, Robby Thompson, said. “I think (Franklin) called for it first, and maybe Brad called for it. But the ball’s got to be caught. For me, Nick’s got to go after that ball — it’s his ball — and he’s got to call him off and make the play. And if Brad does call it, he’s got to be sure that he catches it. But that ball’s got to be caught.”
Both players agreed.
Miller’s assessment: “He broke on it pretty good and when I looked he was camped under it and I was ‘Dang, why did I call it?’ and then we both kind of backed off.”
Franklin’s view: “The ball was right at me, and I just called it. But like I said, it was miscommunication, and it happens.”
With the first two runners on, Wil Myers added a double, and Evan Longoria added a home run. Starting pitcher Joe Saunders didn’t survive the inning.
“I think he threw 17 pitches to a couple of guys in that inning, and then the double followed by the home run,” Thompson said. “Would it be different if that ball was caught? There’s a chance. It kind of snowballed after that.”
Tampa Bay added runs in the seventh and eighth innings.
Meanwhile, the Mariners couldn’t add anything after Raul Ibanez staked them to a 1-0 lead in the second with a home run well into the right-field seats.
It was Ibanez’s team-leading 25th home run of the season. And it moved several notable meters.
Ibanez, 41, became the first player 40 or older to hit 25 or more home runs in a season since Barry Bonds in 2007. He became the first Mariner to hit 25 home runs in a season since 2009, when Russell Branyan (31) and Jose Lopez (25) did it. Ibanez’s 25 homers are the fourth-most in major-league history for a player 41 or older and four short of Ted Williams’ record.
Perhaps most significantly, it was Ibanez’s first home run since July 12, snapping a dinger drought of 90 plate appearances.
“After the (all-star) break, obviously I haven’t really felt great,” he said. “Those days off, I don’t know whether those treated me very well. It treated some guys well; it didn’t treat me very well. As of late I think I’ve been putting together better at-bats and swinging the bat a little better.”
The win went to Tampa Bay pitcher Alex Cobb, who made his first start since suffering a concussion June 15, when a line drive by the Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer caught him on the right ear. Cobb (7-2) went five innings, allowing one run on five hits with six strikeouts.
Saunders (10-12) got the loss. Over his past five starts he is 1-4 with a 7.77 earned-run average.
Tampa Bay (68-51) won the three-game series with its second win in as many nights. Seattle (55-65) fell 10 games under .500 and travels to Texas where the Mariners begin a three-game series today.
“This was a good team, we’ve got another good team (Friday) and another good team in Oakland,” Ibanez said. “… We’ve got to get out there (today) and wipe the slate clean and start over, win a series.”