ARLINGTON, Texas – It was a game that slipped away from Seattle with suddenness in a nightmarish seventh inning, after the latest in a long line of Raul Ibanez heroics put them in prime position to win.
Yet the Mariners’ 5-4 loss to the Rangers on Thursday night, which had an all-too-familiar ring to it, was dictated by events long before the fateful seventh.
Once again, the culprit was the Mariners’ failure to cash in on numerous scoring opportunities. They had 14 hits, yet were just 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position, and left seven runners on second or third base.
“We were able to get people on, and hopefully tomorrow we’ll get them in,” said Ibanez.
They were crying out for a clutch hit in this one – at least from someone other than Ibanez, the baseball elder who is in the midst of a remarkable run. Ibanez broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer in the seventh, his 21st, then singled home a run in the eighth with his fourth hit of the game after the Rangers had stormed into the lead.
That brought the Mariners back within one, but that’s where they stayed as Joe Nathan closed it out in the ninth in front of a sellout fireworks crowd of 47,476.
“The clutch hits, the singles, against lefties and righties, the big home runs, he’s been special this year,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of the 41-year-old Ibanez.
The Mariners easily could have put this one out of reach with a timely hit. They left runners at third base in the second, third and fourth, and stranded two more in the fifth.
“You get 14 hits and only score four runs and leave 12 (actually 13) on, that’s the difference in the game right there,” Wedge said.
After Ibanez’s homer in the seventh, the M’s loaded the bases with two outs before Henry Blanco flied out to center, bringing his total of stranded runners in the game to eight. Blanco had already gone 0 for 3 to drop his average with the Mariners to .167, but Wedge elected not to pinch-hit.
“No, because he’s still out there with (Hisashi) Iwakuma,” he said. “You don’t want to change your catcher with your starting pitcher in the seventh inning. They’ve been together the whole time. You’ve got to keep those two together.”
Iwakuma was sailing along with a three-hitter heading into the seventh, one of the hits an Adrian Beltre homer for the Rangers’ lone run. But after finally being handed a 3-1 lead in the top of the inning, Iwakuma immediately gave one back on another homer by Beltre.
“I spent a long time in the dugout in that inning before going out,” Iwakuma (7-4) said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I was being extra careful to the lead-off guy, which got me going in the wrong direction.”
Iwakuma then gave up a single to A.J. Pierzynski and a walk. Charlie Furbush replaced him and gave up a single to Mitch Moreland that barely sneaked through into center field, scoring Pierzynski with the tying run.
Elvis Andrus’s sacrifice fly brought in the go-ahead run. Leonys Martin hit a grounder to second baseman Nick Franklin, a possible double-play ball, but Moreland jarred the ball loose as Franklin tried to tag him. Moreland got to third and scored what turned out to be a big run on Ian Kinsler’s single.
“He just ran hard straight into it, and unlucky enough it came out of my glove,” Franklin said. “I tried to reach out for him. The right thing (for Moreland) to do, I guess, was to try to run through me and run through the glove, and that’s exactly what happened. It’s just something you have to take back and hope for the best next time.”
This marked the fifth time this year the Mariners have won the first two games of a series but failed to complete the sweep.
“The difference again, not that we weren’t good offensively tonight, but you just can’t leave that many runners on in a one-run ballgame and expect to win,” Wedge said.