Ibanez, Lopez lift Mariners over Twins
Right fielder, second baseman come through at the plate
SEATTLE -- It took until the eighth inning, but Raul Ibanez's teammates finally answered his call to arms on Tuesday night.After riding Ibanez's hot bat to a three-run lead that vanquished in the eighth inning, the Mariners were faced with the prospect of mounting a comeback against nearly untouchable Twins closer Joe Nathan. But second baseman Jose Lopez has been in the zone himself as of late, and his line-drive double into the left-center-field gap in the bottom of the eighth inning off Nathan drove home two runs to give the Mariners an 8-7 victory -- their third in a row -- in front of 26,083 at Safeco Field. Lopez has made a habit this year of taking advantage of late-inning opportunities, although he said his approach is the same. "Same guy, same guy," said Lopez, who is six for his last 10. "You gotta go up to home plate and look for my pitch." The dramatics came thanks to a Seattle bullpen that was unable to hold a three-run lead heading into the eighth inning after seven solid frames from knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Jason Kubel's second homer of the game and a two-run double by Mike Lamb off J.J. Putz gave Minnesota a 7-6 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth. After singles from Ichiro Suzuki and the red-hot Ibanez, the Twins got serious and put in Nathan with one out. After a lineout by Adrian Beltre, Lopez worked the count full before delivering. That gave Putz the chance to shrug off the blown opportunity in the eighth. He did, but barely -- loading the bases and putting a scare into the Safeco crowd before coaxing Mike Redmond into a game-ending flyout to right field. It gave the Mariners a second straight win over the Twins and clinched their first series win since June 30-July 2 against the Blue Jays. "We're not scrapping for first place, but I think playing in these kinds of game in this atmosphere, guys who haven't been in that atmosphere before, it's intense," Seattle manager Jim Riggleman said. "Guys are into it and doing everything they can to win a ballgame. They are agonizing over any failures during the game, but it's a great atmosphere for these guys to be in. And as long as they keep playing that way and creating that type of atmosphere, we're going to make strides." After falling behind 2-0 early on Tuesday, it once again was the Raul Ibanez show. The Seattle right fielder can do no wrong lately, and his hitting once again almost single-handedly carried the Mariners back from the early deficit to a 6-3 lead. After bringing his team back on Monday with a grand slam and a two-run single in the same inning, he came close to matching that performance. First it was a three-run jack to give Dickey a 3-2 lead in the third. And with Seattle up 4-3 in the sixth, Ibanez trekked up to the plate with the bases-loaded -- a situation where the Twins might want to consider just intentionally walking him for the near future. After a two-run single up the middle on Tuesday, Ibanez is now 3-for-3 in that situation this series with a homer and eight RBIs. Ibanez's last three games have been something of a club record-breaking fiasco. Take a look: He has 14 RBIs, which ties Ken Griffey Jr.'s club record for a three-game stretch back in 1999.
He also has 11 RBIs in his last two games, which also ties Griffey's mark.
He's 7-for-12 with two homers in the past three games. Ibanez's three-run blast on Tuesday was his 63rd homer at Safeco Field, giving him the Mariners club record. "It's a daily grind, this game, hitting every day. It's a grind every day," Ibanez said. "It's a battle, and you just gotta go up there, try to compete, try to put on quality at-bats, no matter what's going on. Balls are finding holes and it's working out right, and I'll try to keep that going." More accurately, balls are finding themselves over the fence and constantly are taking a beating from Ibanez's bat. "The outs have even been hard," Riggleman said. "He has driven the ball to second base hard several times. He hit a ball to center field the other night -- just crushed it -- and the center fielder went to the top of the wall to get it. He really is locked in." Lost amid the late-inning action was a fine start from Dickey, who gave up some early runs but steadied himself to throw a quality seven innings and put his team in position to win. "I kept us in the ballgame. I put up a quality start," Dickey said. "Sure, I'd like to win the game, but we won the game and we've won three in a row -- it's kind of fun. It brings a little bit of energy into the clubhouse."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.