Runners in scoring position has been a potential-based phrase for the Mariners. The season-long problem of pushing a man 180 more feet or less to cross the plate hit a nadir of late.
The Mariners were in an 0-for-25 slump with runners in scoring position coming into Monday’s game. Justin Smoak’s fourth-inning double down the left-field line mercifully ended that run.
It also spurred an outbreak.
The Mariners pounded out 15 hits, punishing the American League’s best team during a 11-4 win over the Boston Red Sox on Monday night at Safeco Field.
Common sense and numbers indicated it would be a quiet offensive night. Felix Hernandez was facing Tacoma’s Jon Lester. 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 vivacious curves.
Hernandez was solid in his seven innings; just two runs allowed on six hits.
Lester had a honeymoon first inning before being knocked apart.
Three hits and two walks in the fourth inning produced two Mariners runs. Smoak’s double preceded Michael Saunders’ bases loaded walk that pushed the second run in. But, Brad Miller popped out in the infield and Nick Franklin flied out to the track in center with the bases loaded. The Mariners’ disdain for driving in runners appeared to persist.
They kept badgering Lester, though. Ibanez hit his 22nd home run of the year to start the fifth inning before Smoak’s spinning infield grounder began Lester’s final unraveling. Mike Zunino singled to left to end the Bellarmine grad’s night.
Lester gave up nine hits and five earned runs in his five laborious innings. He threw 112 pitches, 39 of which were dispatched in the fourth. In five of Lester’s last six outings, he’s allowed four runs or more.
“He had very good stuff,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “A couple of pitches that didn’t get to the intended spot.”
The game situation has had little influence on Ibanez. His 13-game hitting streak, during which he has hit eight home runs, has helped him pile up daunting numbers. He’s up to 22 home runs. Eight have come off left-handed pitchers. That’s eight more than he had last season against lefties.
Twelve of his 22 home runs this season have tied (5) the game or given the Mariners a lead (7). He’s three homers past last season’s total in 130 fewer at-bats.
During the last 13 games, he has hit home runs on fastballs, sliders and changeups, doing it against right- and left-handed pitchers.
All of which leaves him seven homers behind Ted Williams for the most all-time by a player 40-years old or older in a single season.
“I’m always preparing,” Ibanez said. “I think I am finally enjoying it and taking it in.”
Monday night, the 41-year-old Ibanez found the help that has shown up infrequently this season. Zunino had two hits. Smoak had three, two doubles, and reached base four times. Saunders doubled twice, all at the bottom of the 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 maximum offense. Now, the trick is repeating it.