The phrase “runners in scoring position” has been one of untapped potential for the Seattle Mariners this season.
And the problem of being unable to push those runners across the plate had reached its peak lately. The Mariners were in an 0-for-25 slump with runners in scoring position heading into Monday night’s game.
Justin Smoak’s fourth-inning double down the left-field line ended that slump.
It also spurred an outbreak.
The Mariners pounded out 15 hits, punishing the American League’s best team during an 11-4 win over the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field.
Common sense and recent history suggested it would be a quiet offensive night. Mariners ace Felix Hernandez was facing Boston’s Jon Lester, a former Bellarmine Prep star.
Hernandez countered the league’s highest-scoring offense with his pitching mastery. Lester was expected to counter the league’s 14th-ranked offense with cut fastballs and vicious curves.
Hernandez was solid in his seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits. Lester had a honeymoon first inning before being knocked around.
Three hits and two walks in the fourth inning produced two runs for the Mariners. Smoak’s double preceded Michael Saunders’ bases-loaded walk that pushed in another run. But when Brad Miller popped out on the infield and Nick Franklin flied out to the warning track in center field with the bases loaded, it appeared that the Mariners’ inability to drive in runners would persist.
They kept badgering Lester, though. Raul Ibañez hit his 22nd home run of the season to start the fifth inning before Smoak’s spinning infield grounder began Lester’s unraveling. Mike Zunino’s singled to left to end Lester’s performance.
Lester gave up nine hits and five earned runs in five laborious innings. He threw 112 pitches, 39 of which came in the fourth.
In five of Lester’s past six outings, he has allowed four runs or more.
“He had very good stuff,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said, “(but had) a couple of pitches that didn’t get to the intended spot.”
The game situation has had little influence on Ibañez. His 13-game hitting streak, during which he has hit eight home runs, has helped him pile up daunting numbers.
Of his 22 home runs, eight have come against left-handed pitchers. That’s eight more than he had last season against lefties.
Twelve of his homers have either tied the game (five of them) or given the Mariners a lead (seven). He already is three homers past his total of last season, in 130 fewer at-bats.
During the past 13 games, Ibañez has hit home runs on fastballs, sliders and change-ups, against right-handers and against left-handers.
He is seven homers behind Ted Williams’ record for the most in a single season by a player age 40 or older.
“I’m always preparing,” Ibañez said. “I think I am finally enjoying it and taking it in.”
Monday night, the 41-year-old found the offensive help that has shown up infrequently this season.
Zunino had two hits. Smoak had three, including two doubles, and reached base four times. Saunders doubled twice. And those three were at the bottom of the Mariners’ batting order.
“Once these guys, you know, continue to figure it out, we should have the 1-9,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
That lineup-wide production left the Mariners with an 11-run, 15-hit glimpse of a potent offense.
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