Music blared in the background, voices called out to each other in happy tones and smiling new faces he could barely recognize scurried...
Music blared in the background, voices called out to each other in happy tones and smiling new faces he could barely recognize scurried past his locker.
These aren’t the sights and sounds Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez is used to in a clubhouse after a defeat, this one 4-2 against Texas. He remembers breaking in with this franchise back when it won games that mattered, instead of contenting itself with a meaningless series victory already achieved before a rare Sunday afternoon home defeat.
But as Ibanez savors memories from being on playoff-bound Seattle teams in 1997 and 2000, he insists a positive foundation is being laid for his new, younger teammates still learning the difference between winning and losing. That difference was on display Sunday, as a lack of timely hitting, punctuated by four double-play grounders, doomed the Mariners.
“It’s huge to savor every moment when you’re on the field, period, but particularly when you’re in a winning situation and a winning environment,” Ibanez said of the truckload of minor league call-ups contributing to the team’s recent string of success. “And that’s what I think we’re trying to create here for the next few years.
“And we’re there,” Ibanez added. “I think that we’re there. I think help is on the way and I think we’re going to be good for years to come.”
The Mariners have been very good lately. The defeat Sunday was only their third in the last 15 games played at Safeco Field and snapped the team’s four-game winning streak.
“They’ve played us well this year,” Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said of Texas, which is 9-4 against Seattle this year. “So, this was a good series. Hopefully, we can continue to play well and take two out of three from Toronto [starting today] as well.”
Tonight: Toronto at Mariners, 7:05 p.m., FSN
For a while, it seemed the Mariners might sneak away with their first series sweep of the Rangers in five years. Felix Hernandez allowed just one earned run over 5-2/3 innings and the home side overcame a 2-1 deficit in the seventh when Ben Broussard smacked a pitch from Rangers starter Adam Eaton off the right field foul pole to lift the crowd of 34,321 out of their seats.
The way things have gone for Seattle lately, anything seemed possible after Broussard’s 20th homer of the season and seventh since joining the club. But a Mariners club that left 10 runners on-base in the marathon Saturday stranded six more in this contest while Texas scored two runs in the ninth off rookie relief pitcher Jon Huber to salvage the series finale.
Michael Young — who doubled home a run in the seventh — lined an 0-2 pitch from Huber into left field for a single that brought Gerald Laird home. Gary Matthews Jr. then scored his third run of the day, crossing the plate seconds before the Mariners could finish turning an inning-ending double play.
Seattle lost partly because Huber, who had walked just 16 batters all year in Class AA, Class AAA and the majors combined, suddenly couldn’t throw strikes. Huber walked Laird with one out, then fell behind 3-0 on Matthews before he singled.
“I was just rushing out a little bit, trying too hard,” Huber said after his first big-league defeat.
The Mariners also lost because instead of the Richie Sexson who clubbed a grand slam Friday and has 29 homers, they got the one with the .321 on-base percentage and 140 strikeouts. Sexson fanned with Ibanez on base in the second and grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play with runners at the corners in the sixth.
They lost because the Chris Snelling who helped generate runs with successful bunts Saturday and again in the sixth inning Sunday, couldn’t move Ichiro over to second in the eighth.
The trick for the team’s front office is to figure out how far this recent stretch of success will extend. They have to determine whether the pitching, hitting and defense that have obscured memories of an 11-game losing streak in August can be counted on with any consistency come next April.
“The way I look at it is that this is kind of an extension for next year for me and a lot of guys,” said Broussard, finally starting to feel comfortable as a designated hitter.
“We can get better as a team, get better with guys in scoring position,” he added. “Everything you do, you kind of notch it in the back of your head as a player. You know that if you get hot at the right time and drive guys in, you go into next year with that confidence.”
Geoff Baker: email@example.com