NEW YORK — There come times in every game where one swing can decide the outcome, and this particular moment was staring Raul Ibanez in the face.
And Ibanez, as he did so often in the home team’s uniform here a year ago, settled this Wednesday night affair for the Mariners before his squad’s pitcher even had a chance to take the mound. Ibanez turned on a Phil Hughes curveball for a grand slam in the first inning of what became a 12-2 rout of the New York Yankees by a Mariners squad that had let such moments pass far too often the previous game.
As if not to be outdone, Ibanez followed his 11th career slam with a two-run homer in the fifth inning that had the Yankee Stadium throng actually booing him instead of serenading with the customary “Rauuuuul!” chants so common last year and earlier this series.
“It sounds the same,” Ibanez said afterward, with a slight grin. “I don’t want to say that because I don’t want it to get louder.”
The boos from a shellshocked crowd of 34,081 in the Bronx weren’t the first Ibanez has heard this season. There have been a few at Safeco Field the first month as Ibanez compiled a sub-.200 batting average, leading to fans and pundits questioning how much longer he’d remain on the team.
For now, three home runs in two nights should quiet that talk. Kyle Seager added a three-run homer in the sixth to cap the scoring for the Mariners on a night they pounded out 16 hits.
When Brendan Ryan legged out an infield single in the ninth, every Mariners starter had at least one hit — the first time that’s happened since they walloped the Texas Rangers 21-8 a year ago. Hisashi Iwakuma won’t have it much easier as he rode a 7-0 first-inning lead to victory, yielding a pair of solo homers to Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart over seven uneventful innings to improve to 5-1.
Ibanez has known home-run heroics in this ballpark, having now clubbed nine in his past 11 games here, including last year’s playoffs.
But Ibanez, whose six runs batted in this game were a new career road high, isn’t sure the park is really a factor. Ibanez did use this park’s short right-field porch to his advantage last year in hitting 14 of his 19 homers at home.
Then again, his blasts in this game went to right-center and the opposite way to left.
“I’ve been feeling better at the plate coming into this series,” Ibanez said. “I try not to make too much of it. I try to grind out every at-bat. I think I’ve been feeling better lately at the plate, and it’s carried over.”
One thing that didn’t carry over this time for the Mariners was the missed opportunities of the night before. The Mariners stranded 11 runners in that game and saw a 3-0 lead in the sixth become an eventual 4-3 loss.
This time, they didn’t let things stay so close when Hughes kept putting baserunners on in the first. After a walk by Dustin Ackley, Seager had a single and then Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse each had run-scoring singles to make it 2-0.
Justin Smoak drew a walk, and then Ibanez didn’t miss the 0-1 offering sent his way.
“That’s huge,” Seager said. “Being able to get the big lead, obviously, get those seven runs, the big swing by Raul. That was big just to give Iwakuma a little breathing room and let him really settle in and attack the hitters.”
Michael Saunders promptly finished Hughes off after the Ibanez slam, drilling his first of two doubles to bring in the seventh run and chase the Yankees starter from the contest. Ibanez and Seager later added their ensuing homers off Yankees reliever Brett Marshall, who went 5-2/3 innings in his big-league debut.
The Mariners had been waiting for Ibanez to have the type of impact on the field that he’s had off it.
“He’s absolutely everything you look for in leadership,” Seager said. “He’s a guy you can talk to, a guy you can watch.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge had hoped in spring training that some of that professionalism and the quality of Ibanez’s at-bats would eventually spread to other players.
“I thought our guys did a great job,” Wedge said. “They were aggressive, they were getting good pitches to hit and laying off pitches they should lay off. They did a great job of keeping it moving down the line. Of course, Raul got that big hit there. But there were a lot of good at-bats.”