CLEVELAND — The highlight shows will feature Jason Kipnis’ walk-off, laser-of-a-line-drive, three-run homer as the reason the Cleveland Indians beat the Seattle Mariners, 6-3 in 10 innings, on Friday night at Progressive Field, and deservedly so.
But while Kipnis’ power display off of a hanging slider from Lucas Luetge was impressive, what really cost the Mariners a victory was speed. If not for the blazing speed of Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, Kipnis doesn’t come to the plate in the 10th inning and get to be a hero.
“Their speed got us there at the end,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
The cliché has always been that “speed kills.” But in this case, speed also wins.
Brought on with one out in the top of the 10th inning as a lefty specialist in a game tied at 3, Luetge got lefty-swinging Michael Brantley to ground out to second base for the second out.
With two outs, Luetge walked the dangerous Stubbs, who had homered earlier in the game, on five pitches.
But it appeared the walk would be nullified when Luetge guessed right on a Stubbs’ stolen base attempt two pitches later and fired a pick-off move to Justin Smoak at first. However, Stubbs broke for second on a pitchers’ first movement and beat the throw from Smoak to shortstop Brendan Ryan covering second base.
“He was just a little quicker than we were,” Luetge said.
Even with the winning run in scoring position, Luetge looked like he might escape. He fooled Bourn on a slider low and away. Bourn took a helpless half swing, tapping the ball just past Luetge on the mound, who couldn’t make a play on it. Second baseman Dustin Ackley charged and fielded the ball on the grass but had no chance at a play to get the ultra-fast Bourn.
“It’s a little frustrating, and that’s just the ball just not bouncing our way,” Luetge said. “It happens. Unfortunately, the next batter I didn’t get out. If I get him out, none of that stuff would matter.”
That final out escaped Seattle (20-22) twice because of world-class speed. It would come back to haunt them.
After getting up 0-1 on a called-strike slider to Kipnis, Luetge tried to throw another slider away out of the zone. Instead, he hung it and Kipnis crushed it to right field for the first walk-off homer of his career.
“You can ask any pitcher, sometimes the ball leaves your hand and you are thinking ‘Oh man,’ only in different words,” Luetge said. “You are just hoping that he pops it up or misses it.”
Despite hitting .250 (13-for-52) this season against lefties with 13 strikeouts, Kipnis rocketed the ball over the fence sending the crowd into a frenzy.
“That was the matchup we wanted — the left on left there,” Wedge said. “Lucas does a nice job against left-handers, but they caught a break with that check swing in the batter before.”
Did Wedge think about going to closer Tom Wilhelmsen?
“With Tom, we were only going to use him today if we got the lead in the bottom half,” Wedge said. “You have to save him for that on the road.”
The Mariners also had to stay with Luetge because Oliver Perez and Yoervis Medina weren’t available to pitch the night after their extended work in New York.
“We had a couple guys down today and we’ll have a couple guys down tomorrow,” Wedge said.
Seattle starter Brandon Maurer gave the Mariners a quality start despite facing a lineup filled with left-handed and switch hitters — his nemeses. The rookie right-hander pitched six innings, giving up three runs on five hits with four walks and six strikeouts, throwing a season high 102 pitches. He didn’t work a clean inning until the sixth, when he was able to retire the side without allowing a base runner. But he never let the game get away from him.
“It was big,” Wedge said. “I thought he made some great strides against the left-handers, and it was impressive for him to get through six innings.”
Cleveland got two runs off Maurer in the second inning on a sacrifice fly and a wild pitch.
The Mariners cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth inning. Kendrys Morales crushed a fastball into the second deck in right field off Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez for his fifth homer of the season.
Stubbs pushed the Cleveland lead back to 3-1 with a solo homer off of Maurer in the fifth.
The Mariners answered in the sixth. Justin Smoak drew a leadoff walk from Jimenez. Indians manager Terry Francona called on lefty Rich Hill to face lefty-swinging Raul Ibañez, who jumped on a 0-1 curveball and hit a two-run homer.
It was Ibañez’s fifth homer in his past six games and seventh of the season. It was also his second homer off of a lefty this season — something he didn’t do in the regular season last year.
“I’m feeling pretty good at the plate,” Ibañez said. “Unfortunately, we came up a little short. It was a great battle and we’ll come back and do it again tomorrow.”
The Mariners had scoring chances in the eighth and 10th but couldn’t come up with the timely hit.
“We had plenty of chances,” Wedge said. “We still have to do a better job … We’ve showed signs. But we’ve yet to be consistent.”