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07/19/08 2:48 AM ET
Ibanez's slam helps Mariners rout Tribe
Hernandez in control for six innings on his bobblehead night
By Jim Street / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- The trade winds could start swirling around Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez even more during the next two weeks than they are now, but he's trying to ignore them. "I get paid to play baseball and I try to do it to the best of my ability every day, and that's all I focus on," Ibanez said. "I don't think about anything other than that. My job is to help the Seattle Mariners win as many games a possible. I try to keep it that simple." The erstwhile class act showed off his talents again Friday night, slugging his sixth career grand slam and adding two singles in leading the Mariners and ace right-hander Felix Hernandez to an 8-2 victory over the Indians in front of 42,570 at Safeco Field. It was a grand way to start the second half of the season. The first half went so poorly that the immediate status of Ibanez -- among other Mariners -- is in doubt as Major League Baseball moves toward the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. With the Mariners in a selling mode, and Ibanez being in the final year of his contract and yet still productive, he could be a prime target for postseason contenders. His name has been mentioned in a potential "matchup" with the National League Diamondbacks. But until further notice, any rumor that surfaces is just that, and Ibanez frankly doesn't give any of his time to matters he can't control -- especially trade rumors. "Regardless of the situation," he said, "I have to prepare the same way and take the same approach and attitude into every game. Whatever the circumstances are or whatever is going on, I still go out there and compete, do the best I can to help the team win." He said it would be "foolish" for him to predict the future. Asked if he expected to be with the Mariners on Aug. 1, he said, "I don't think that far ahead. The game is hard enough to play, but when you start thinking about possible scenarios, it can make the game even tougher. For me to function at the level I want to function, I have to focus on what I am trying to do, and that focus doesn't not include things I can't control." One thing he can control is his swing, and he uncorked a beauty with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning. The Mariners, who had two outs and none on against Indians starter Aaron Laffey, loaded the bases on the first of three hits by third-string catcher Jamie Burke, a hit-by-pitch, and an error on a ball Ichiro Suzuki hit to shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Laffey walked Willie Bloomquist on four pitches to force in a run. Thinking that Laffey wanted to throw a first-pitch strike, Ibanez walked to the plate and wanted to be ready to pounce on the first pitch if it was in his hitting zone. It was, he swung, and the ball sailed deep into the right-field bleachers for his 12th home run of the season -- and the second grand slam by a Seattle player this season. The other was by, believe it or not, Hernandez on June 23 against the Mets at Shea Stadium. "He's been walking around here with his chest sticking out a little bit," Ibanez laughed. "He has reminded us every day. It was a great swing, and he's a great athlete." And he's a terrific pitcher, too. The five-run second inning presented Hernandez with more runs than the Mariners scored for him, on average, during his first 17 starts of the season -- 3.47. That is the third-lowest among American League starters this season, and the near-capacity crowd on "Felix Hernandez Bobblehead Night" watched as the 22-year-old zipped through the Indians' lineup. Hernandez surrendered a run in the third inning and another in the sixth, on Casey Blake's leadoff home run to right field, but that was the extent of Cleveland's scoring off him and relievers Mark Lowe, Roy Corcoran and Cesar Jimenez -- who each pitched a scoreless inning of relief. Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning to give Hernandez(7-6, 2.95 ERA) a seven-run lead. "You're always little concerned in a game like that," manager Jim Riggleman said. "A manager lives by Murphy's Law, and when [the other team] gets a run here, and a run there, the momentum changes." But Hernandez received a reminder from Burke to stay focused and not get careless with a big lead. King Felix struck out eight batters for the second consecutive start after coming off the 15-day disabled list and has fanned at least that many in four of his past five outings. And to top it off, he has now defeated every American League team during his still-young career. As for Burke, it was one of the best all-around games of his career. He singled and scored in the second inning, singled in the fifth and doubled in the seventh. He also made one of the best defensive plays of the game, hustling to first base to back up a play in the eighth inning. With one out, Ben Francisco hit a grounder between third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who made a backhanded stop, turned and tried to throw the runner out. The throw was errant, but Burke extended his glove as far as he could and made the catch, preventing the runner from advancing to second and saving Betancourt an error. "It doesn't happen very often at this level," Burke said, "but I just know if I go hard every time, you might make a play like that. The day you are going 90 [percent] and not 100 is the day you won't get it."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.