It was one of those games so good neither starting pitcher deserved to lose, and neither Felix Hernandez nor Josh Tomlin did.
After grinding through 126 pitches, leaving the bases loaded in the eighth inning, striking out 12 and handing a one-run lead over to the Seattle bullpen, Hernandez got a no-decision Thursday night.
Closer Brandon League couldn’t hold the lead, gave up two walks, two hits and a pair of runs as the Cleveland Indians rallied in the ninth inning for a 2-1 victory.
It was not the ending 12,942 fans at Safeco Field had hoped to see.
“Felix was incredible tonight, just pitched a tremendous game and in the eighth inning really stepped up,” manager Eric Wedge said.
“We saw his emotions and you saw what was inside of him. He’s a special pitcher.”
For Hernandez, it might have been the best game he can pitch without pinpoint control, but neither his offense nor his closer gave him the support needed to win.
Tomlin, a 27-year-old right-hander with 18 career wins, didn’t quite match Felix but didn’t have to. Allowing only one run was good enough in the end, because the Indians came back to give him a well-earned victory.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He went toe-to-toe with Felix for eight innings. He was fantastic.”
For eight innings, the velocity didn’t matter, the pitch count was moot and those who were at Safeco Field watched a man whose heart would not allow him to lose.
Slightly wild but totally dominant through seven innings, Hernandez had a one-run lead and far too many pitches when the Indians loaded the bases with one out in the eighth.
And then he did what all great pitchers do – reached back for something few have – and struck out his 11th and 12th hitters of the night and took that precious lead with him to the dugout.
“I felt strong, I felt good,” Hernandez insisted.
Could he have pitched the ninth inning?
“That’s too much,” he said, shaking his head. “Eight was good enough.”
The yellow-shirted King’s Court down in the left field corner roared for strikeouts all game and got plenty of them.
Seattle got two hits in the second inning but came up empty. The Indians had a two-out double from Carlos Santana in the fourth, but left him on second base.
Without runs, fans counted strikeouts.
Felix got one in the first inning, another in the second, then struck out the side in the third inning. He got No. 6 in the fourth, No. 7 in the fifth and one more in the sixth and seventh innings to make it nine.
In the eighth, he struck out the side again – getting the final two Indians he faced with the bases jammed.
And that seemed to be that.
To open the bottom of the fifth inning, Michael Saunders doubled to center field, catcher Miguel Olivo bunted him to third base and designated hitter John Jaso grounded to second base.
Saunders came home on the play, and when infielder Jason Kipnis threw wildly to the plate, the Mariners had a 1-0 lead.
Enough? For eight innings of Felix Hernandez, yes.
League, however, couldn’t finish it.
“Brandon is one of the best closers in the game,” Felix said. “We lost the game. He’ll be back out there.”
League waited for the media to finish with Felix, then did his best to explain what happened.
“I couldn’t execute my pitches, couldn’t throw a strike to the first hitter (Santana) and walked him,” League said. “I got ahead of (Travis) Hafner but couldn’t put him away and he got a base hit .”
With two on, no one out, the Indians bunted the runners up a base, and League walked Shelley Duncan to load ’em up. This time, Cleveland wouldn’t be denied.
On a sharp sinker, ex-Mariner Jack Hannahan grounded just under the glove of Kyle Seager at third base for a two-run single.
“I got the ground ball I wanted, just not where I wanted it,” League said. “If it’s at someone, maybe we get two (outs) and it’s over. It wasn’t right at anyone.”
As League walked off, there was a smattering of boos – likely more the frustration of the inning as much as a reflection on League, who hadn’t allowed a run until Thursday.
“I’d have booed myself,” League said. “Felix in the eighth inning did what Felix does. Amazing. I just couldn’t do the same in the ninth.”
The Indians manager tried to put the game in perspective.
“When you dodge a guy like Hernandez and win the game, you have to feel good about it,” Acta said. “Felix doesn’t beat himself, you know he’s going to give you seven or eight innings. He’s got four pitches that are above average.”
On this night, none of that was enough.