When a team is in the midst of a winning streak, all the breaks seem to go its way.
But what happened in the ninth inning Tuesday night for the Seattle Mariners to get their eighth consecutive victory — a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field — should be construed as something more than a break.
It was a gift — a gift wrapped in a bow from Drew Stubbs, the Cleveland Indians and the baseball gods in the form of a 5-4-2-6 double play, which erased an almost certain tying run.
“You don’t see that too often,” Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said.
That’s because, on most levels, it was a fundamentally bad play from Stubbs.
The Mariners seemed destined for disaster in the top of the ninth.
Closer Tom Wilhelmsen had thrown three pitches and given up two hits. Mark Reynolds led off the inning, ripping the first pitch from Wilhelmsen into center field. Indians manager Terry Francona replaced Reynolds with a pinch runner — the speedy Stubbs.
The move immediately paid off as Stubbs easily advanced to third on Lonnie Chisenhall’s single to center.
Francona went to another pinch runner, replacing Chisenhall with Mike Aviles.
With runners on the corners and no outs, it seemed a tie game was a certainty.
But what followed left the Mariners smiling and shaking their heads in wonder. Francona and the Indians made a similar motion, only in pure disgust.
Yan Gomes hit a soft ground ball to Seager at third. He coolly
looked at Stubbs to freeze him from going home, then fired to Nick Franklin at second base for the force out.
Stubbs read the play as the Mariners trying to turn a traditional 5-4-3 double play, and he started making a non-committal move toward home. He was hanging out in the baseline — too far from home to score and not close enough to third to get back.
“I was kind of surprised to see him there,” Franklin said. “I was going to turn the double play, but I saw him out of the corner of my eye.”
Franklin came off the bag and made a motion at Stubbs, who knew he was in the land of hesitation without a map, a compass or a direction. He started to break for the plate.
Franklin immediately fired home to catcher Mike Zunino.
“I was just like, ‘Give the ball up and not try to make a bang-bang play, and we’ll get him in the rundown,’ ” Franklin said.
The thinking worked. Zunino got the ball well before Stubbs was near home. Stubbs, knowing he was a sure out, then retreated to third in hopes of staying in a rundown. Zunino threw the ball to shortstop Brad Miller, who was waiting at third.
Miller quickly chased Stubbs down for the double play.
“It’s a play you’ve got to run through scenarios in your head and make your mind up and go with it,” Stubbs said. “Any slight hesitation is going to cost you like it did.”
Francona was diplomatic about the play.
“He just probably needed to keep going, and we’ll take our chances,” Francona said.
To make matters worse for Cleveland, Gomes — still upset at himself for the weak ground ball — had no idea of what was going on with Stubbs, and he didn’t advance to second during the rundown.
Robby Thompson, who was filling in for hospitalized manager Eric Wedge for the second consecutive night, hadn’t seen a sequence like that in his lengthy baseball career.
“The way our young guys executed that, it was really impressive,” Thompson said.
Wilhelmsen then struck out Michael Bourn looking to pick up his 23rd save of the season.
“That was the difference in the ballgame,” Wilhelmsen said. “We are starting to take advantage of the breaks.”
Of course, the Mariners were on the other end of those breaks against the Indians in Cleveland. They lost four consecutive games, including three walk-off losses with equally odd circumstances.
“Things like that happened for Cleveland in Cleveland,” Thompson said. “And they seem to be going our way now. Sometimes things just kind of snowball and go your way, and they are going our way right now.”
It shouldn’t have been that close at the end. The Indians committed three errors and could have been charged with more, but the Mariners didn’t take full advantage.
Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in the second inning as Gomes crushed a two-run homer off Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez into the left-field upper deck.
But Seattle answered in the bottom of the third. Back-to-back doubles from Raul Ibañez and Kendrys Morales off Indians starter Zach McAllister cut the lead to 3-2. McAllister later uncorked a wild pitch, and Seager came home from third to tie the score at 3.
Zunino provided the go-ahead hit for the second consecutive night, lacing a single to right to score Michael Saunders.
“He was using his fastball a lot,” Zunino said. “And you have to hunt that, even with two strikes. I was able to get one away and put a good swing on it.”
The 4-3 lead would last, though Ramirez wasn’t sharp. He got out of trouble with double plays in the fifth and sixth innings.
“He was better,” Thompson said of Ramirez (1-1), who exited with two outs in the sixth. “I think he got a little tired at the end there, and his arm slot was dropping down a little bit. “
Yoervis Medina ended the sixth with ease and pitched two more scoreless innings of relief.
With a victory Wednesday, it would be the Mariners’ first nine-game win streak since 2003.
“That’s what winning is about is taking advantage of those opportunities,” Wilhelmsen said. “We are starting to do that more often than not as of late.”blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners