Ibanez hits game-winner to lift Mariners

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SEATTLE (AP)—Stunned looks in the dugout. Cold silence in the clubhouse. Shrugged shoulders all around.

Not all game-ending moments go the way of the Rays these days. It only seems like it.

Raul Ibanez lined a hanging pitch from Dan Wheeler like a laser inside the right-field foul pole, Seattle’s first game-ending home run in its lost season, and the Mariners beat AL East-leading Tampa Bay 2-1 on Thursday night.

“Raul hit that ball so hard, it didn’t have time to go foul,” Seattle manager Jim Riggleman said.

Ibanez didn’t have time to comprehend what he’d just done.

“You really don’t realize until you are going around the bases what’s going on,” Ibanez said.

On the other side of the country a day earlier, the Rays’ six-run bottom of the ninth ended with Carlos Pena’s home run that stunned Cleveland and sent Tampa Bay into a mosh pit at home plate. Manager Joe Maddon was still glowing from that Thursday, calling it the most exciting win of his team’s thrill-ride from laughingstocks to legitimate this season.

Then came Ibanez’s fourth career walkoff home run. It prompted a wild, on-field celebration by the team with the AL’s worst record.

“Split-finger. Just trying to put him away. And I just hung it up there,” Wheeler (2-5) said among the quiet Rays, who began a season-long, 10-game road trip by losing for just the second time in nine games, trimming its division lead to 2 1/2 games over idle Boston and 5 1/2 over the New York Yankees.

“Part of the (pregame) meeting was, ‘Don’t let this guy beat you,” Wheeler added. “But there’s not a guy I don’t think I can get out. … It stinks right now, it definitely does, but the sun will come up tomorrow.”

Problem for the Rays is, they will be on the road when it does. They dropped to 23-29 away from Tropicana Field, where 29 of its final 48 games will be played. The Rays are 45-17 at home. That’s the largest differential between home and road success in the major leagues.

On-deck batter Adrian Beltre threw his batting helmet into the air the moment the ball left the bat of Ibanez, who has 16 RBIs in his last five games.

“The way Raul’s swinging, it seems like the situation’s finding him,” said Seattle closer J.J. Putz (5-4), who escaped trouble in the top of the ninth for his third win of a seven-game homestand. “Right now, the big situations are finding Raul—and he’s delivering.”

Felix Hernandez allowed just four hits and one run in eight innings for Seattle, which won for just the fourth time in 57 games when trailing after seven innings. The Mariners, 25 games under .500, beat a contender for the third time in four games, following a series win over Minnesota.

Tampa Bay’s Andy Sonnanstine went to a three-ball count just once over the first six innings. He retired 17 consecutive batters from the second into the seventh innings.

Wladmir Balentien doubled and fellow rookie Bryan LaHair singled off Sonnanstine to begin the eighth. No. 9 hitter Yuniesky Betancourt then tied the game on a sacrifice fly that scored Balentien.

Tampa Bay had a chance to go ahead in the top of the ninth after Putz hit Evan Longoria on the right wrist with a fastball and Carlos Pena singled him to third with one out. But Putz, showing he may be closer to his 2007 All-Star form after a series of injuries, struck out Cliff Floyd with a 97 mph fastball and Dioner Navarro with a breaking pitch low and away.

Longoria had a bulbous wrap on his wrist after the game, but said X-rays were negative.

“It’s just going to be sore, but that’s all right,” the Rays’ leader in home runs and RBIs said. He expects to play Friday.

Then, to a teammate, Longoria said: “I ain’t going down now, buddy.”

The only run of the first 7 1/2 innings came when Hernandez allowed a walk to Carl Crawford and a single to Longoria leading off. Crawford, back in the lineup after missing three games with a sore hamstring, reached third on a fielder’s choice. Then with the count 2-2 on Floyd, Hernandez appeared to confuse catcher Jeff Clement, who allowed the pitch to clang off his lower leg to the backstop. Crawford ran home easily on what was scored a wild pitch.

Hernandez struck out five, walked three and allowed three runs or fewer for the 11th consecutive start. He improved his ERA to 2.94 ERA, fourth in the AL.

Notes

Rays OF B.J. Upton went 0-for-4 one day after Maddon benched him for not running out a ground ball. … Putz won his third consecutive outing, the first time that’s happened to a Seattle reliever since 1978 with Enrique Romo. … The Mariners are taking struggling RHP Miguel Batista (4-11, 6.80 ERA) out of the rotation again. Riggleman did not announce who would start Saturday, only that it will be a minor-league call-up. That likely means LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith, sent down to Triple-A Tacoma last month to convert to starting.

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