SEATTLE —Raul Ibanez believes there’s some second-half hope for his Mariners despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
The Mariners limped through the halfway mark in their schedule over the weekend, culminating with a 7-6 loss on Sunday to the Chicago Cubs. Ibanez hit his 19th home run of the season in the losing effort, though his team again waited until the final few innings to show signs of offensive life.
For Ibanez, that ability to rally late is what’s fueling his hope that things will eventually change for a club now losing games with a bit too much regularity.
“I think that this team, for whatever reason, we do the hard part well,” Ibanez said. “Which is, we score late in the game. And that’s the hard part. The hard part is hitting the setups, closers and late-inning guys.
“And I think we do that part well. We’re good at coming back. I think if we can, offensively, hit collectively the first six innings the way we do in the last three, I think we’ll be a really good team.”
The Mariners trailed 7-1 after just four innings. Jeremy Bonderman yielded five doubles and was replaced partway through the fourth by Blake Beavan.
It was 7-2 in the seventh when the Mariners began a home-run onslaught, with Jason Bay taking Cubs starter Edwin Jackson deep.
Ibanez then opened the eighth with a solo shot to right off Shawn Camp, equaling his longball total last season for the New York Yankees. Two batters later, Kyle Seager snapped an 0-for-19 slump with a two-run homer to right off Camp to make it 7-6.
All of a sudden, fans in the crowd of 24,701 at Safeco Field stopped heading for the exits and returned to their seats. The Mariners actually got runners to first and second with only one out in that eighth inning, but the rally died as pinch-hitter Mike Zunino popped out foul and Endy Chavez grounded out to third.
Closer Kevin Gregg retired the side 1-2-3 in the ninth and the Mariners dropped their second in three tries against the cellar-dwelling Cubs. Seattle finished 3-5 on the homestand, losing four of the last five.
The Mariners are 6-9 since the start of their last trip and have fallen a season-high 12 games under .500 at 35-47. In a season of raised expectations, the results continue to baffle — especially on offense.
For the season, the Mariners are actually better at scoring early rather than late. But the trend lately, as losses have mounted, has indeed seen them shut down early by opposing starters, only to rally against the bullpen.
Some of that might have to do with an atrocious Cubs bullpen, one of the worst in baseball. But the quality of the at-bats by the Mariners has also gotten noticeably better as games wear on.
“We’re working on it,” Ibanez said. “I can’t explain it. But the positive is, that’s the hard part of the game. The end part … it’s hard to score late in the game and it’s easier to score early.”
Shortstop Brad Miller notched his first big-league hit with a double in the fifth inning and later scored on Nick Franklin’s single to get the Mariners started on their comeback from 7-1 down.
“It’s just a little weight lifted off there,” said Miller, treated to a loud ovation after his first hit. “Because I wanted to get in the swing of things and help out.”
Beavan helped keep the early Cubs lead from getting much bigger after they scored three off Bonderman in the second and two more in the fourth. Two of the runs were unearned because of a two-base error by Seager on a muffed grounder.
The Cubs got an Alfonso Soriano double off Beavan, then a single by Anthony Rizzo in that fourth to bring home their sixth and seventh runs. Beavan allowed just an infield single the rest of the way in his 42 / 3 innings of relief.
“It’s a new role for me,” Beavan said. “I’ve got to figure out where I need to be when I’m coming in and throw quality strikes.”
Beavan struck out four and didn’t walk anyone. Tom Wilhelmsen worked a perfect eighth and left the Mariners positioned for the ninth and a potential shot at a .500 record for the homestand.
But it was not to be.
“We had our opportunities,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We fought back and made it close. But that’s not good enough.”