KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a prodigious streak though 60 days earlier this season, Raul Ibañez hasn’t been hitting home runs nearly as frequently. But when the Seattle Mariners really needed one Thursday against Kansas City, they called on the 41-year-old veteran and he responded.
With two outs and the Mariners trailing 6-5 in the top of the ninth inning, manager Eric Wedge had Ibañez pinch hit for catcher Henry Blanco.
The move worked perfectly when Ibañez belted a solo home run off Royals All-Star closer Greg Holland to tie the game and send it into extra innings.
Though Ibañez’s 26th homer of the season was wasted in the Mariners’ 7-6 loss in 13 innings, no Seattle player draws more praise from Wedge about hitting in those situations.
“He likes being up there in those situations,” Wedge said. “Any time you have a chance where one swing of the bat can alter the game, you’d like him up there.”
Ibañez, who had never faced the hard-throwing Holland, swung and missed at a 99 mph fastball. Holland never threw him another. Instead, he threw Ibañez five sliders – the last, on a 3-and-2 count – Ibañez hit an estimated 392 feet.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Ibañez said. “He throws 100 mph and he has a really good slider. I was just trying to swing easy and get a base hit. I hit the slider and got it up in the air.”
Ibañez’s homer broke Holland’s streak of 31 straight saves. It was the third home run Holland has allowed in 57 appearances and 56 innings. The last homer he allowed was on June 30 to Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe.
The homer tied Ibañez with Barry Bonds for the third-most home runs hit in a season by a player over 40. Ted Williams set the record of 29 in 1960. It was the 297th home run of Ibañez’s career.
It was Ibañez’s second home run since the All-Star break, coming after a torrid stretch in which he hit 22 homers from May 14-July 12.
But after a few doubles in Houston and the home run on Thursday, he hopes he’s getting hot again.
“I’ve been feeling better as of late,” Ibañez said. “I’m just going to continue to grind and fight.”
FELIX’S START DELAYED
Felix Hernandez, who was scheduled to start Sunday against Tampa Bay at Safeco Field, will instead pitch Wednesday at home against Houston. It’s a precautionary move by the Mariners after Hernandez got a lower-back cramp in his most recent outing, Monday against the Royals.
“I feel fine,” said Hernandez, who was opposed to the delay.
“He feels good and he wants to start on Sunday, which I understand,” Wedge said. “But we are just going to be cautious. And he understands. It really isn’t going to affect how many starts he gets with how we have it played out. We just don’t want to take any chances.”
Now, Erasmo Ramirez will pitch Sunday against the Rays. Taijuan Walker’s home debut will be pushed to Monday and Joe Saunders will go Tuesday.
The Mariners return to Safeco Field for a 7:10 p.m. game Friday against Tampa Bay to open a six-game homestand. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (12-6, 2.92 ERA) will start for Seattle against Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (8-3, 2.82). The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners