Less than 24 hours after watching the Cleveland Indians celebrate a game-ending, game-winning hit, the Seattle Mariners had to watch it once again.
This time there was no helpless feeling of watching a ball sail over the fence for a walk-off homer. This time Seattle at least had a chance to fight off defeat. But shortstop Brendan Ryan’s throw from his knees to home plate for a force out pulled catcher Jesus Montero off the plate slightly, allowing Jason Kipnis to score the game-winning run in a 5-4 victory for the Indians.
With the score tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Mariners manager Eric Wedge called on setup man Oliver Perez to shut down the Indians and send the game to extra innings.
“He’s the guy we want out there right there,” Wedge said. “We were obviously saving (closer Tom) Wilhelmsen to take the lead.”
Perez, who came in with a 1.08 earned run average, having not allowed a run in 14 of his 16 appearances this season, gave up single on a 0-2 pitch to Kipnis to start the inning. Cleveland’s No. 3 hitter Asdrubal Cabrera tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but failed on two attempts.
Up 0-2, Perez couldn’t put Cabrera away. Cabrera, a former Mariner prospect, didn’t bite on two pitches out of the strike zone and then turned on an inside fastball, yanking it off the wall in left for a double.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Wedge had Perez intentionally walk Nick Swisher to load the bases and set up force outs at every bag. He brought in rookie Yoervis Medina to pitch to right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds.
Medina got Reynolds to hit a soft grounder to short. Ryan made a diving stop on the ball in the grass and fired to home from his knees. The ball bounced in front of the plate. Montero stretched to field the ball off the bounce and in the process it pulled his foot off the base as he made the catch.
“I thought the throw beat the runner,” Wedge said. “But (Montero) came out a little bit early and came off the plate. It was a great play by Ryan.”
It’s not a normal play for a catcher and Montero looked a little unsure how to play it.
“Brendan made an unbelievable play,” Montero said. “I was trying to touch the plate but the throw was so far. I tried hard.”
Ryan thought he had made the impossible play.
“I wasn’t sure what happened,” Ryan said. “I haven’t seen the tape. What can you say really? I did the best I could. I put everything I had into that throw.”
Even if Montero makes the play, the chances of the Mariners getting out of the inning were slim.
“You have to feel good if we get out of that inning, we’d have quite a bit of momentum,” Ryan said. “Yeah, bases are still loaded, but maybe we get another ground ball and get a double play and get out of the inning.”
In the search for positives for the Mariners, the fact that they even got the game into the bottom of the ninth was a bit of an accomplishment.
Trailing 4-2 and down to their final out, Raul Ibanez hit a solo home run to right field off Indians closer Chris Perez to cut the lead to 4-3. It was Ibanez’s sixth homer in seven games.
While Ibanez’s home run didn’t seem implausible considering his recent hitting tear, what followed next was slightly more surprising.
Justin Smoak, who had just one home run on the season, jumped on a 1-1 fastball from Perez and hit a line-drive homer over the wall in right-center to tie the score at 4-4.
“It felt good to tie it up,” Smoak said. “I’d been battling all day. I was just doing anything to get on base right there and I got one good there.”
If the two runs in the ninth were improbable for the Mariners, the two runs they got in the eighth inning could be viewed as a minor miracle. Ryan, he of the .163 batting average, ripped a two-run homer over the left field fence into a hard-blowing wind off Indians starter Zach McAllister. It was Ryan’s first home run of the season and 16th of his career.
“I didn’t think it had any chance,” he said. “I’m never one to home run trot on anything. I was just hoping it would get to the wall.”
The Mariners played from behind the entire game. Starter Joe Saunders gave up a run in the first inning as his road struggles continued. Saunders allowed runners every inning, but pitched his way out of jams in the second, third and fourth innings. In the fifth, he gave up a solo homer to Reynolds and then surrendered two more runs in the sixth.
“I’m going to sacrifice a live chicken before my next road start,” Saunders said. “Just some bad breaks. They made some good swings on some good pitches.”
Well aware of the team’s overworked bullpen, Saunders gave the Mariners 120 pitches in 61⁄3 innings.
“I would have gone 150 if they needed me to,” he said. “That was everything humanly possible I had to keep us in the game.”
Saunders’ replacement — Danny Farquhar — kept the deficit at 4-0, pitching 22⁄3 scoreless innings.
“It was a great job coming back,” Wedge said. “Saunders battled and was tough today, Farquhar did a great job coming out and you don’t see that happen very often — hitting a couple of solo shots off a closer.”
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