The Seattle Mariners’ 88th defeat of the season came and went like so many of them have. The starting pitcher – Joe Saunders in this game – had one bad inning, a four-run second, which ultimately was too much for the Mariners’ punchless offense to overcome with its usual lack of timely hitting.
But what made Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels significant was it represented a step back from last season. This loss eclipsed last season’s total of 87. And with seven games left, the chance of losing a few more is likely. A season with 90 losses isn’t out of the question.
But even in the loss, there was significant individual accomplishment.
In the ninth inning with the Mariners trailing 6-4, Raul Ibañez crushed a pitch off of Angels’ closer Ernesto Frieri into the right-field stands for a solo home run. It was Ibañez’s 29th homer this season, tying Ted Williams’ record for the most hit in a single season by a 41-year-old. It also was Ibañez’ 300th home run of his career.
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He achieved two milestones with one swing.
“Obviously, it’s a great honor and I’m privileged to be in this situation,” Ibañez said. “I feel blessed to be playing this long and get this opportunity.”
Admittedly, it was more of an opportunity than even Ibañez expected when he signed with Seattle for his third Mariners stint this past offseason. He has played 119 games this season, which wasn’t quite predicted, either.
“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,” Ibañez said. “I’m thankful.”
One of those “other things” was his production at the plate. He was one of the Mariners’ most productive hitters 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,” Mariners manager Eric 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.”
Ibañez 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.”
Ibañez, of course, talked about the loss more than his achievement. It was that way as he watched the ball sail over the fence, too.
“Honestly, I was thinking if I hadn’t tried to make that play on that sinking line drive, we’d still be playing,” Ibañez said. “I was thinking it would be 5-5 game.”
The sinking line drive he referred to came in the seventh inning off the bat of Collin Cowgill. The ball skipped under the glove of a diving Ibañez and rolled to the wall for a triple. Cowgill then scored from third on an attempted suicide-squeeze play. Saunders (11-16) tried to pitch out but fired the ball high and wide of catcher Henry Blanco and went to the backstop.
“I knew it was coming,” 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 lead-off walk to Mark Trumbo and a one out walk to Cowgill loaded the bases and led to the damage. They were the only two walks Saunders issued.
“Even with the walks, they were good pitches,” Saunders said.
Saunders then allowed an RBI single to Andrew 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.
But he also tied Houston Astros pitcher Lucas Harrell and Chicago Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson for most losses in the majors this season (16).
“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 five runs – four after the sixth inning. Going for 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranding 11 runners on base didn’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 on third and two runs in the eighth on an RBI single from Dustin Ackley and a sacrifice fly from Almonte. Ibañez’s homer was one of two extra base hits the Mariners managed all night.
Jerome Williams (9-10) recorded the win, and Ernesto Frieri got the save.