Raul Ibanez was in high school when he first read the Ted Williams book “The Science of Hitting.’’
His father told him the legendary Red Sox slugger used to swing at the same leaf over and over trying to hit it, so Ibanez practiced doing the exact same thing. He never imagined being mentioned alongside Williams, but his 18th home run in a 4-2 loss on Wednesday to the Pittsburgh Pirates has some folks doing just that.
Ibanez is only 11 homers from tying Williams for the most ever hit by a player age 41. Inside another bleak Mariners postgame clubhouse, Ibanez downplayed comparisons with Williams and suggestions he’s trying harder than his offensively floundering teammates.
“I’m humbled, I’m honored, all of those things,’’ Ibanez said of the Williams talk. “But at the same time, I can honestly and sincerely tell you the only thing I think about is to try to bring my approach every day and try to bring it to the team and help my team win.
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“That’s really the only thing that matters here. All that other stuff is secondary.’’
It is indeed secondary for a fading Mariners squad, back to 11 games under .500 after dropping a second straight game to the Pirates, in front of 21,265 at Safeco Field.
A simmering Mariners manager Eric Wedge said afterward his hitters are running out of excuses.
“We’ve got to hit,” Wedge said. “It’s time to hit. You’re not going to win games unless you hit. They got the two-out hit and we didn’t. Game over.”
Jordy Mercer’s two-out single in the ninth off Yoervis Medina snapped a 2-2 tie and an ensuing wild pitch scored an insurance marker.
Felix Hernandez bounced back with seven strong innings of two-run ball against the National League Central leaders after blowing an 8-1 lead in Anaheim his last time out. The Mariners overcame a 2-0 deficit, tying it when Ibanez went deep to right in the sixth for a solo shot off left-handed relief pitcher Justin Wilson.
But the Mariners mustered just three hits before that off Pirates starter Jeanmar Gomez. The night before, they had four hits in seven frames off Jeff Locke.
Wedge’s patience has worn visibly thin after two-plus years of defending his often-inexperienced teams and their failure to deliver offensively. Now, with the very future of this rebuilding plan being openly debated online and on the airwaves, Wedge said it’s time for players to show what they are capable of.
“We’ve got guys up here that should be doing better,” Wedge said. “Raul’s been fantastic. I mean, right-handers, left-handers, big hits, playing every day. He’s a shining example of what you want a big leaguer to be.
“But we’ve got other guys that need to be doing better, both young and old. We need to be more consistent with it. You can’t come to the ballpark and try to win games like this every single day. It’s just too damned hard. And that’s what we see time and time again.”
Ibanez said his teammates do ask questions about his approach and advice on how to stay consistent.
“I talk to (Kyle) Seager a lot, I talk to (Nick) Franklin,” Ibanez said. “I talk to younger guys and we discuss these things. I talk with Endy Chavez and Kendrys (Morales) and all these guys. We all talk among each other, among ourselves. Everybody in this locker room works hard.”
But there is a difference between just working hard and achieving results.
“I think we have to focus on winning as a team,” Ibanez said. “We win as a team, we lose as a team and the ultimate goal each day is to win. Get on base however you can, try to score runs however you can and drive in runs however you can.
“It’s just a fighting mentality. A driving mentality where you get in there and you’re in the fight, you’re in the battle, you’re in the competition.”
Right now, the Mariners aren’t in much of anything. It was once said of baseball great Williams that he was the ultimate competitor, who used to admire watching others put up a fight.
But he also once said: “Hitting a round object with another round object as it is moving is the hardest thing to do in all of sports.”
The Mariners can attest.
And until they figure out that round ball stuff, they won’t be putting up too much of a fight that others can’t handle.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners.