SEATTLE — By his own admission, Raul Ibanez was “barely alive” just two pitches into one of the more memorable at-bats he’ll ever have.
But through sheer force of will, he was still around some 11 pitches later when the opposing left-hander threw Ibanez a changeup he didn’t miss. The resulting two-run homer to right field propelled the Mariners to a badly needed 4-2 win Monday night at Safeco Field over the Chicago White Sox.
Not only that, but the 13-pitch showcase put on by Ibanez against White Sox starter John Danks in the third inning could also serve as a metaphor for the fight he wants his team to continue to wage at a time the odds are clearly not in their favor.
“You just fight,” Ibanez said of his at-bat. “I mean, that’s pretty much all you do. All you can do. I got down 0-2 early on and at that point, you just forget the count, forget everything and you’re just hitting like you’re playing Wiffle ball in the backyard.”
Ibanez fouled off three straight two-strike pitches at 0-2 before finally taking ball one. He eventually fouled off four more pitches in taking the count full, his dugout by then fully immersed in the battle and the crowd of 13,491 buzzing with each additional pitch.
“You have to protect the whole plate,” Ibanez said. “When you’re 0-2, you have to protect everything and I was barely alive. Just fighting, battling.”
Danks finally blinked first, throwing Ibanez a changeup he could get his bat around on. The crowd leaped to its feet as Ibanez sent the ball over the right-field wall for the longest at-bat by a Mariner resulting in a home run since detailed records began being kept in 1988.
“That was one of the best at-bats I’ve ever seen up here,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I mean, you’ve seen at-bats similar to that, but the left-on-left, him fighting through so many different pitches and fouling them off, tough pitches. And neither guy was giving in.”
Wedge has implored his hitters to adopt a similar, survival-like attitude when down 0-2 in counts.
“You’re protecting the plate,” Wedge said. “You’re making the pitcher work to get you out. You’re not going to leave it in the umpire’s hands. You’re going to fight off anything close and be ready to hit a pitch that’s in your zone.”
Kendrys Morales had doubled home Kyle Seager moments earlier as the Mariners went on to record a three-run inning off Danks. Mariners starter Joe Saunders cruised from there through 6-1/3 innings with the 4-1 lead against a White Sox squad that has dropped seven straight with the worst offensive numbers in the league.
The Mariners used the cushion to get Tom Wilhelmsen the easy save opportunity after two blown chances on the last trip. Wilhelmsen walked the leadoff batter — which got the bullpen up immediately — and later yielded a run-scoring single to Adam Dunn.
But he notched a pair of strikeouts in between and admitted he relaxed somewhat after the leadoff walk.
“You can’t try too hard,” he said. “You can’t overthrow and walk people like I’ve been. You just relax and know that you’ve done it before and just try to stick with that.”
Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan, whose shovel flip with his glove helped start a nifty 6-4-3 double play in the sixth, said the entire dugout was up and cheering the Ibanez at-bat three innings earlier by about the eighth pitch.
“It could have been a broken-bat single,” Ryan said. “It could have been anything and it wouldn’t have mattered because it was just such an awesome fight and that’s what he’s all about — sticking his nose in there and competing and not letting that guy beat him. That’s what he talks about and he exemplified it right there.”
Ibanez has said over and over that he believes the team can get back toward .500. But it won’t be easy.
“I see a team that’s had six losses or so in some really tough situations,” he said. “But I see a team that fights, that competes and battles and there are a lot of good things. As long as we take it positively and build from that, there are a lot of good things that can happen.”
The key, he added, is to not get discouraged despite being in this early hole.
“You just don’t,” he said. “You don’t get discouraged. You keep fighting and battling.”
And sometimes, as seen in that third inning, good things can happen.