June 15, 2013 at 8:42 PM
Mariners taking this ‘old guys’ thing of theirs to crazy heights
We’ve written quite a bit about how the contributions by older Mariners players has kept this badly listing ship afloat as the Mariners wait for several players to come off the DL or back from Class AAA. Last night, you had Raul Ibanez with the decisive RBI to seal the win for Joe Saunders.
But today, things got a little nuts in a 4-0 win over the Oakland Athletics.
Henry Blanco became the oldest player in Mariners history to hit a grand slam, at age 41 years, 290 days. The 13-year gap between that blast and his previous slam on May 12, 2000 was the fifth longest in MLB history. Oh, yeah, and 35-year-old Endy Chavez made the defensive play of the game with that throw from right field to nab Jed Lowrie in the fifth inning with things still scoreless.
Felix Hernandez was so pumped up about the play while looking on from just behind the plate pileup, he gave the “out” signal with his hand even before the umpire did.
“I called the guy out,’’ Hernandez said. “I mean, that was decisive. Endy made a great throw and I think that was the difference in the game.’’
Chavez certainly felt it might be, even before he made the throw.
“It was tough to score runs all game and I knew one run was going to be a lot,’’ he said.
So, when the Mariners went on to score four runs the very next inning on the first-pitch fastball Blanco drilled just inside the left field foul pole, everyone in the visiting team dugout realized that was likely the game right there. The dugout erupted in celebration and Hernandez gave Blanco a long, extended hug as he jogged back in from rounding the bases.
“That was a perfect pitch to hit a grand slam on,” Blanco said. “I mean, I was looking for a fastball and I got it and I put a pretty good swing on it.”
Blanco and Hernandez have been friends since the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when Blanco caught some bullpen sessions by the ace but never any actual games. Blanco wanted to do some last-minute prep work with Hernandez prior to this game, but Hernandez would have none of it.
“He kept trying to talk to me,’’ Hernandez said with a smile. “And I was like ‘Henry, I don’t want you to talk to me. Just call pitches and I’ll throw them to you.’ ’’
For Blanco, it was easy to remember his only other slam when I asked him about it postgame.
“I remember it was against Jason Schmidt,’’ he said of the former Pirates staff ace. “I got a fastball to hit and I hit it out. Obviously, the same thing happened today.’’
Obviously, at this stage of his career and given how sporadically he plays, fastballs are about the only pitch Blanco is still going to do serious damage on. He guessed right on a first-pitch, 88 mph four-seamer that A.J. Griffin tried to sneak inside on him and sent the ball and long, long way.
“I was hoping it would stay fair and it did,’’ Blanco said. “It was close to the line, so, I didn’t want it to go foul. That was the main thing.’’
But his day’s work wasn’t done. In that ninth inning, when the A’s put the first two batters on, Blanco headed out to the mound on his own to calm a jumpy Yoervis Medina. Blanco reminded the young pitcher of the situation and that the tying run was still in the on-deck circle.
Medina had come on and issued a walk after Charlie Furbush — who’d worked a scoreless eighth — gave up a leadoff single in the ninth. But Medina rallied by getting a lineout to center, then a huge second out on a called strikeout against Brandon Moss. Josh Donaldson later flied out to end the game.
“He knows the situation we’re in with our closer situation and not having anybody right now,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said while glowingly extolling Blanco’s leadership credentials postgame. “We’ve had three pitchers out there in the ninth inning the last two nights that have never done that before.”
Wedge made a point of saying that real leadership is as much about what happens when a guy isn’t playing as when he is and says Blanco is the perfet guy to handle young pitchers and a young catcher in Mike Zunino.
“First of all, I thought he did a tremendous job behind home plate,” Wedge said. “You could see what he does back there and how he handles things and the way he makes it look so easy. He’s thinking the game through. Felix, he’s only called a few times (in bullpen sessions), and then the bullpen, which he’s never caught before. That’s no easy task either.
“But we talk about going up there ready to hit. Bases loaded, he goes up there ready to hit and he hit it a long way.”