By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
CLEVELAND — Tom Wilhelmsen pretty much summed up the thoughts of the Seattle Mariners and their fans minutes after yet another stunning walk-off loss to the Cleveland Indians.
“We’re just happy to be leaving Cleveland,” he said flatly. “We are ready to leave this place.”
After four days and four losses — three coming on the final swing of the bat — the Mariners have taken enough punches to the gut in this city to last 10 seasons.
Monday’s 10-8 loss in 10 innings might have been the most painful.
Long before Yan Gomes sprinted around the bases, celebrating a three-run walk-off home run with his teammates spilling out of the dugout, jumping and going crazy, the Mariners had the final game of the four-game series won.
Endy Chavez had given the Mariners a 7-6 lead in the top of the ninth, ripping a lead-off, pinch-hit home run off of closer Chris Perez, stunning the crowd of 19,320 at Progressive Field.
Wilhelmsen, who had patiently waited for save situations that never came in the first three games of the series, came in to shut the door in the ninth like he had done 11 times this season.
But it didn’t happen.
Wilhelmsen got a quick out, but gave up an infield single to Jason Kipnis on a bouncing ball up the middle. Wilhelmsen came back to strike out Asdrubal Cabrera.
But as they had done in previous games, the Indians just wouldn’t submit.
Nick Swisher lined a base hit to right field putting runners on first and third with two outs.
It looked like Cleveland had tied the score when Carlos Santana lashed a hard ground ball to the right side that seemed certain to get through to the outfield. However first baseman Justin Smoak made a brilliant diving stop. He flipped the ball to Wilhelmsen, who had it in his glove and then inexplicably dropped it as he went to touch first and then tumbled to the ground. Kipnis scored on the play and the score was tied at 8-8.
“I just took my eyes off the ball,” Wilhelmsen said. “There is a catch and catch. Smoaky made a great play and threw a perfect ball right to me. I simply took my eyes off it and it fell out.”
Smoak thought the game was over. He was just as stunned that Wilhelmsen dropped the ball as everyone in the stadium.
‘It’s just one of those things that happens,” Smoak said. “Of course you don’t want it to happen, but Tom has been so good for us all year. You can’t blame him.”
Wilhelmsen struck out Mark Reynolds to end the inning and stalked off the mound in disgust.
But Smoak made up for Wilhelmsen’s mistake in the top of the 10th.
The first baseman crushed a one-out solo home run deep to right field off of side-armer Joe Smith. It was the second time in this series that Smoak hit a key late-inning home run.
“I wish I didn’t have to have that last at-bat,” Smoak said. “I’m just trying to have good at-bats. I got a good pitch there, and I tried to square one up.”
Up 8-7, Wedge went to Charlie Furbush instead of leaving Wilhelmsen — who’d thrown 22 pitches in the ninth inning — in the game. Like most closers in baseball, Wilhelmsen does not have a multi-inning appearance this season.
“I didn’t want to send Tom back out there,” Wedge said. “It would have put him in a place he hasn’t been. He’s been so good. I didn’t want to put him in a position to mess him up. To take him any further, I didn’t think would be fair to him.”
Furbush had pitched well in two appearances in this series, throwing 32⁄3 hitless innings and striking out five.
But he was in trouble from the start as Michael Brantley fought off a pitch on his hands and hit a looper into right field for a single. Drew Stubbs tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt. It went back to the mound. Furbush initially looked to try and get the lead runner at second base. He couldn’t, then bobbled the ball and threw to first. Smoak mishandled the hurried throw, though the speedy Stubbs likely would have been safe.
“Bunt right back to me, that’s my first instinct,” Furbush said. “I just turned and tried to throw the ball to first.”
With runners on first and second, Cleveland tried to bunt again. Gomes, who had homered earlier in the game, failed to get down the bunt after several tries. So with the count 3-2, Gomes just ended the game instead, crushing a fastball into the left-field stands for a home run.
“It is what it is,” Furbush said quietly.
The lead-off runner just made everything more difficult.
“I still felt like he had good stuff,” Wedge said. “That first guy has a jam-shot base hit. It’s always tough when that first guy gets on and it goes from there.”
The Mariners got an uneven performance from starter Hisashi Iwakuma. The right-hander had been dominant all season, but his command just wasn’t there. He served up a three-run homer to Ryan Raburn and a solo homer to Gomes back-to-back in the second inning to turn a 2-0 lead to a 4-2 deficit.
Seattle immediately tied the score at 4-4 in the third inning. But Iwakuma gave up another run in the bottom of the inning on a RBI single from Brantley.
“My pitches were up in the zone,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “It’s regrettable. The home run I gave up was with two strikes. I gave up a lot of hits with two strikes.”
He did manage to not allow a run for the next three inning, giving the Mariners six innings.
“He didn’t have quite his normal command,” Wedge said. “But I was proud as hell of him those last three innings. They were hitting him pretty hard, and for him to give us those three scoreless innings was big. It still gave us a chance to win the ball game.”
The Mariners were swept in Cleveland. Wedge isn’t panicking.
“Cleveland is probably the hottest team in baseball and things are going their way,” Wedge said. “We are just on the south side of things right now. You still have to look at the baseball we’ve been playing and the teams we’ve been playing. We’ve played seven games on this road trip and easily could’ve won six of them. So we’re that close.”