There are strange games and then there is what transpired yesterday at Progressive Field.
Looking to complete a four game sweep of the visiting Seattle Mariners, the Indians sent Scott Kazmir to the mound for yesterday’s 12:05 start. The Kazmanian Devil (copyright: Merritt Rohlfing) had pitched well so far this season, but yesterday would not be his day. Over the course of just 3 innings of work, Kazmir allowed 5 runs on 7 hits and struck out only 2 on the day. Not exactly his best performance.
Meanwhile, Seattle pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who entered the game with a microscopic ERA below two, turned in his worst outing of the year. He surrendered 5 runs on 7 hits over the course of 6 innings of work. It marks the second day in a row in which the Indians offense was able to put crooked numbers on the board against a pitcher who had been near unhittable in 2013.
That wasn’t the story of the day, though. That belonged to Indians catcher Yan Gomes.
While trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the second, Ryan Raburn swatted a towering shot to the bleachers in left to give the Indians a 3-2 lead. Gomes then followed with a solo shot of his own to make it 4-2 Tribe. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t hold up as Kazmir would surrender two more runs off of the bats of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse to pull things back to even at 4-4.
With the score now 5-4 in favor of the Indians, Kazmir stepped back on to the mound looking to hold serve. It wouldn’t happen. After a leadoff walk to Kelly Shoppach and a double by Robert Andino, Seattle tied the game when Brendan Ryan grounder out to short, scoring Shoppach from third and making it a 5-5 game.
For the next two and a half innings, things would be relatively drama free. Both bullpens settled into the game and both offenses were held at bay until the bottom of the seventh. It was at that point the Indians took a 6-5 lead thanks to an RBI fielder’s choice from Asdrubal Cabrera. With the back end of the Tribe bullpen back to full strength, it seemed all but certain that the Indians would close it out.
And then things got weird.
In the top of the eighth, Vinnie Pestano served up a home run to Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager. The home run, Seager’s sixth on the year, made it a 6-6 ball game. Further adding to the confusion, Endy Chavez, pinch-hitting for Shoppach, homered the following inning off of Chris Perez to give the Mariners a 7-6 lead. It was yet another sign that perhaps something isn’t quite right with the Indians’ al-star closer.
Meanwhile, the Mariners trotted out Tom Wilhelmsen for the bottom of the ninth. Things looked particularly bleak as the hard through righty had yet to blow a save in 2013. Boy, was he due?
With two outs and Jason Kipnis on third and Mike Aviles running for Nick Swisher at first, Carlos Santana stepped to the plate looking to find a hole in the Seattle defense. On an 0-1 pitch, Santana hit a sharp grounder to first which was snagged by a diving Justin Smoak who then flipped the ball to the covering Wilhelmsen to end the game. Only it didn’t end the game. Wilhelmsen dropped the toss, Santana was safe at first, and Kipnis crossed the plate to tie the game at seven and eventually send it to extra innings.
In the top half of the tenth, the aforementioned Justin Smoak delivered another go ahead home run for the M’s, this time off of Joe Smith. On a 1-1 pitch, Smoak hit a ball that nearly landed in the second deck out in right field. The only question was would it stay fair or not. Well, it stayed fair and heading into the bottom of the tenth the Indians once again found themselves facing a one-run deficit.
Despite how desperately the Indians seemed to want to give yesterday’s game to the Mariners, it just wouldn’t happen. Michael Brantley led off the bottom of the tenth with a single to right. Drew Stubbs then followed with what was meant to be a sacrifice bunt. Unfortunately for the Mariners, the usually sure handed Smoak was unable to handle the throw by catcher Jesus Montero. That was when Yan Gomes stepped to the plate.
Gomes was given the task of laying down a bunt in order to move the runners over and into scoring position. Unable to get the job done, he was eventually faced with a 3-2 count and simply looking to avoid a double play. This time, mission accomplished. Gomes sent a soaring fly ball to left that found its way into the bleachers, pushed the Tribe to a 10-8 victory, and sent the thousands in attendance home happy.
For Gomes, the three-run shot, his second on the day and fourth of the season, made him the hero. It also has sparked an interesting debate concerning the futures of both himself and Lou Marson, who is still attempting to rehab a shoulder injury.
As for the Indians, the victory was their fifth in a row. Their record of 26-17 on the year has them sitting 2.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers for first place in the AL Central. The added kicker? The Tigers head to Cleveland to take on the Indians in a short two game series starting tomorrow night. This is the Indians chance to build a sizable cushion between themselves and their arch rivals from the motor city.
The Good: Yan Gomes. Two home runs, one of which was the game winner, and he continues to play exceptional defense behind the dish. What more could you ask for out of your back up catcher?
The Bad: Scott Kazmir. This was not the best game for Kazmir. He made it through only three innings and in the process surrendered leads in back to back innings. Hopefully it’s only a small hiccup and not a sign of worse things to come.
The “Huh?”: Tom Wilhelmsen’s inability to catch the toss from Justin Smoak on what should have been the final out of the game. It wasn’t as if he had to beat Michael Bourn to the bag. Carlos Santana runs well, but he’s by no means a speedster. Wilhelmsen had time to catch the ball and step on the bag. Instead he rushed himself, took his eye off the ball and failed to catch it AND properly step on the bag; it was a comedy of errors on a number of levels. Smoak also could have delivered a higher toss rather than one below the 6’6” Wilhelmsen’s waist, but it was still a catchable.