BALTIMORE – This was one senior’s moment definitely needed by a Mariners team in need of a break on this trip.
And none was better than backup catcher Henry Blanco stepping to the plate in the seventh inning Sunday and crushing a ball over the left-field wall. The two-run blast gave the Mariners a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles on a day all of Seattle’s scoring came off the bats of a pair of 41-year-olds.
Raul Ibanez had driven in the other Mariners run with his first of two doubles as Seattle took two of three here and finished the trip 2-4.
“At this point, you just want to contribute to winning games and hope for the best,’’ said Blanco, who despite only sporadic playing time, also hit a grand slam his previous game on this trip, last Thursday at Boston. “Raul is a pretty good hitter, he’s always been. Me, I’ve just been lucky. I just expect to play my game and try to help out as much as I can.’’
Until the home run, Mariners left-hander Joe Saunders looked set to take a hard-luck loss. He had battled all day, stranding eight runners the first five innings, but a two-run homer by Danny Valencia in the sixth gave Baltimore it’s first lead at 2-1.
Saunders was not happy with himself as he left the mound after the sixth, having thrown 115 pitches and knowing he was done for the day. But just as quickly, Blanco’s drive off Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen had him positioned to improve to 7-0 lifetime in nine starts against the Orioles.
That was confirmed when Yoervis Medina tossed two perfect innings of relief, striking out four. Danny Farquhar then finished a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save in as many days in place of struggling closer Tom Wilhelmsen.
“This game is funny,’’ said Saunders (10-10). “You go from an ultimate low to an ultimate high when Hank (Blanco) gets that huge hit off a really good pitcher in Chen. He was cruising and it was a really good comeback for us.’’
Saunders said the dugout erupted when Blanco connected.
“He bailed me out, really,’’ Saunders said. “I owe that guy dinner and a bottle of liquor.’’
Farquhar got some help in the ninth when Brad Miller, playing second base, made a diving stop of a Henry Urrutia liner that appeared headed into right field for a leadoff single.
“One out, nobody on base is night- and-day difference, as opposed to a runner on first and nobody out,’’ Farquhar said. “I think that saved the game right there.’’
Farquhar was equally impressed that a pair of 41-year-olds drove in all of his team’s runs.
“Henry Blanco today with his homer was unbelievable,’’ he said. “Raul with his two doubles, it’s impressive, man. Forty-one years old, both of them … I think maybe one of them is 42? But it’s unbelievable what they’re doing at a major league level.’’
The Mariners continue to get unexpected offensive production out of their two most senior members. Ibanez has been instrumental in keeping the offense and the clubhouse together most of this season, but had cooled since the All-Star break.
Still, the Mariners are not about to abandon their contributing veterans in favor of an all-out youth movement. That’s why Dustin Ackley was on the bench yet again Sunday while interim manager Robby Thompson played a hunch and started Ibanez against the left-handed Chen.
Ibanez had lined a hard hit off the wall in his final at-bat Saturday and Thompson wanted to keep playing the hot hand. At this point, with the Mariners seven games under .500 and wanting to get as close to a winning season as possible, he isn’t about to start benching players who have contributed all year in favor of youthful experiments.
Thompson said the production by Ibanez and Blanco is a testament to the work they put in all year.
“For somebody to stick around that long, both of them at 41, they’ve both had really nice careers, great careers,’’ Thompson said. “So, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into the offseason and that’s what prepares them for the season.’’
Blanco’s homer was his third this season and first that wasn’t a grand slam.
“For a little while there, I thought he could only hit them with the bases loaded,’’ Ibanez joked.
Blanco stays in shape mainly by doing “Insanity” workouts – a series of explosive, full-body plyometric exercises that improve fast-twitch muscles and the cardiovascular system. Ibanez does similar plyometric workouts as the bulk of his offseason regimen and says it’s the reason guys like him and Blanco can still play.
“I think it’s hard work and a lot of physical training,’’ Ibanez said. “It’s maintaining a high level of activity and fitness. He works hard. He works his butt off. And it’s not something that you can just start doing. It’s something that’s cumulative. It has a cumulative effect.’’