The Indians took advantage of a bad night for one of the best pitchers in baseball as Cleveland (21-16) routed Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners (16-23) in the opener of a two-game series at Progressive Field Wednesday.
Seattle struck first in what looked at first like it would be another shaky start for Ubaldo Jimenez. Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders led off the game with back-to-back singles, and a wild pitch to Ichiro put runners at second and third with nobody out. Jimenez gave up a run on Ichiro’s groundout to make it 1-0 Mariners, but he was able to limit the damage to that.
It didn’t take the Indians long to get to Hernandez. Three pitches into the inning Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Kipnis had already reached with base hits, and Hernandez then beaned Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases with nobody out. A passed ball on a pitch to Travis Hafner scored Choo and moved everyone else over, and his RBI groundout brought in Kipnis.
Carlos Santana then worked a walk and Michael Brantley struck out to set the stage for one of the most bizarre plays of the season. Santana started off in an awkward delayed steal attempt; rather than try to throw him out at second, for some reason Mariners catcher Jesus Montero threw to third. His throw missed the mark and caromed into left field. Cabrera charged home from third and left fielder Chone Figgins‘ throw in bounced away from Montero. Meanwhile, Santana somehow managed to come all the way around and score to make it 4-0 Tribe.
Ackley’s two-run home run made it a one-run game in the third, but the Indians roared back in the fourth. Choo reached with a one-out single and took second on a wild pitch before scoring on Kipnis’ RBI double. The hit parade continued with two outs as Hafner and Santana’s back-to-back RBI doubles played two more runs and Brantley’s RBI single made it 8-3 and knocked Hernandez out of the game.
The Tribe added another insurance run in the sixth as Hafner went yard against Hisashi Iwakuma, but it was more than enough to back Jimenez’ quality start and shutdown innings from Jeremy Accardo, Tony Sipp, and Jairo Asencio as the Indians won, 9-3.
The Good: Huge kudos to the Tribe’s lineup. Anytime you score nine runs on 14 hits (21 baserunners) you’ve done well, especially against one of the best pitchers in the game. The Indians made Hernandez pay for every mistake pitch he made, and that’s how you beat a good pitcher. Well done. Travis Hafner had the best day, going 2-for-5 with a double, a homer, and three RBI, but Shin-Soo Choo went 3-for-5 with a double and Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Brantley also had mutlihit games.
Ubaldo Jimenez had a nice outing, too. Three runs on five hits in six innings means a quality start, and his fastball had more life than we’ve generally seen this year. Four strikeouts is still less than we’d ideally see him from and he seemed to lose his command for a bit in the third, but overall he was solid.
Finally, Jeremy Accardo also had a great Indians debut, getting a strikeout and taking only 10 pitches to get through a perfect seventh inning. It’s only game, but he already seems like a huge upgrade over Dan Wheeler.
The Bad: Casey Kotchman was the only player in the starting lineup to be held hitless (he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a walk). It’s nothing to worry about—even if you want to overreact to small sample sizes, he hit very well in Minnesota—but it’s always sad to see all but one player get a hit.
The “Huh?”: In the eighth inning, Mariners manager Eric Wedge swapped theretofore left fielder Chone Figgins and third baseman Alex Liddi for no discernible reason. He didn’t bring anyone else into the game and Liddi had never played outfield in the majors before, but some reason Wedge decided to make the swap. Not sure what Seattle got out of it.
Interesting Tidbit: Wednesday was the first time the Indians scored more than eight runs against a former Cy Young winner since they lit up Frank Viola for 10 runs on April 28, 1996 in a 17-3 victory over the Blue Jays in Toronto. (hat tip: It’s Pronounced ‘Lajaway’‘s Ryan McCrystal)