DETROIT – Raul Ibanez had talked before this game about feeling strong enough to come back and play next season.
“Yeah, I could play another year,” Ibanez said. “It’s not something I really dwell upon. It’s not something that I really mull over or lose sleep over in the moment. But yeah, I think if you asked me right now I think yeah, I definitely want to play another year.”
As if to support that, Ibanez belted his 28th home run of the season on Tuesday night, helping the Mariners stay close until the late innings of a 6-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. The blast tied Barry Bonds for the second-most home runs in a season by a player age 41 or older and leaves Ibanez one behind the all-time mark of 29 set by Ted Williams.
“I’ve made a couple of adjustments and I’m trying not to do too much,’’ Ibanez said of his plate resurgence after a tough six weeks post-All-Star break. “I’m trying not to swing so hard, to swing easier. And it’s worked out of late.’’
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Off the field, Ibanez was nominated this week by the team for the annual Roberto Clemente Award and by players for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. The awards, named after former Pittsburgh Pirates star Clemente and ex-Players Association founder Miller, go to recipients combining on-field excellence with a dedication to community service.
In addition to his on-field numbers, it’s the off-field work by Ibanez, both in and outside the clubhouse, that has the M’s considering a return by him. His on-field numbers have exceeded anything they expected hitting-wise and he’s played the outfield far more than the team wanted because of injuries and poor performance by younger players.
Ibanez entered Tuesday hitting .273 in September with a stellar .909 on-base-plus slugging percentage. His homer off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez, who struck out 10 batters over 62
3 innings, tied the score 1-1 in the sixth inning.
Up to that point, the Mariners had barely made a peep in front of 39,076 fans at Comerica Park hoping to see the hometown Tigers take further strides toward clinching the American League Central. But Brandon Maurer, in arguably his best start of the season, kept things close by allowing just one run the first five innings and striking out six.
Ibanez’s homer set both teams off on a wild few innings.
Miguel Cabrera hit his first home run in three weeks to start the bottom of the sixth against Maurer and restore a 2-1 lead for the Tigers. Maurer was pulled one batter later, but the bullpen held and Kendrys Morales tied the score with a pinch-hit double in the seventh.
The Tigers retook the lead on a leadoff triple by Alex Avila off Yoervis Medina in the eighth, followed by a Torii Hunter sacrifice fly that made it 3-2. Seattle loaded the bases with two out in the top of the eighth, but Mike Zunino, in a tough, 11-pitch at-bat against reliever Jose Alvarez, grounded into a double play.
Detroit put the game away in the eighth with two straight hits off Charlie Furbush before scoring three times off Carter Capps. Capps allowed four of six batters he faced to reach base, allowing two run-scoring singles, a walk, a wild pitch and a hit batsman.
“It’s tough to go out there and compete the way you want to,’’ manager Eric Wedge said. “But that’s what they’re doing and they’re learning each and every day.’’
Ibanez has spoken daily with younger Mariners, trying to get them to understand what it means to maintain focus throughout a full 162-game schedule. The Mariners have dropped eight of nine and fell a season-high 19 games under .500 at 66-85.
But Ibanez has preached the virtues of staying consistent. His grueling offseason conditioning helps him.
That’s been tested this year, with the Mariners having run Ibanez into the outfield for 7652
33 innings, compared to his 651 last year with the Yankees.
But Ibanez insists he sometimes plays better when he’s tired. He feels his post-All-Star slump and revival the past few weeks was more about needing adjustments than extra rest.
“Staying locked-in for six months in a row becomes harder when you get older,’’ he said. “But the physical part, I feel like I can play this game, physically, for a while I guess. That doesn’t mean that I will. But I feel like I can.’’
• Mariners minor-league pitcher Forrest Snow, a former University of Washington standout now with Class AAA Tacoma, was suspended 50 games for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. The drug involved is not said to be performance-enhancing in nature, but no other information was given and Snow declined to comment.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners.