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.
The 10-8 loss in 10 innings on Monday 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 – twice.
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 Cleveland closer Chris Perez, stunning the crowd of 19,3290 at Progressive Field.
Wilhelmsen, who 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, as he had done 11 times this season.
But it didn’t happen.
Wilhelmsen got a quick out, then gave up an infield single to Jason Kipnis on a bouncer up the middle. Wilhelmsen came back to strike out Asdrubal Cabrera.
But just as they had done in previous games, the Indians wouldn’t submit.
Nick Swisher lined a base hit to right field putting runners on the corners with two outs.
It looked like Cleveland had tied the game when Carlos Santana lashed a hard ground ball to the right side that seemed certain to get through to the outfield. However, Justin Smoak made a brilliant diving stop on the play. He flipped the ball to Wilhelmsen, who had it in his glove and then inexplicably dropped it as he tried to touch first and then tumbled to the ground. Kipnis scored on the play and the game 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 inning.
The first baseman crushed a one-out, solo home run deep to right field off sidearm pitcher Joe Smith. It was the second time in the series that Smoak hit a key, late-inning long ball.
“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, Mariners manager Eric Wedge went to Charlie Furbush instead of leaving in Wilhelmsen, who had thrown 22 pitches in the ninth inning. Like most closers in baseball, Wilhelmsen has not had 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, striking out five.
But he was in trouble from the start after Michael Brantley fought off a pitch near his hands and looped a single into right field. Drew Stubbs then put down a sacrifice bunt. It went back to the mound. Furbush initially looked to try to get the lead runner at second but couldn’t. He 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.
“It is what it is,” Furbush said quietly.
Cleveland’s leadoff runner just made everything more difficult for the Mariners.
“I still felt like (Furbush) 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 Monday. 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 game 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 hold Cleveland scoreless the next three innings, 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 ballgame.”
The Mariners were swept in Cleveland, but 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.”Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish