CLEVELAND – The highlights show 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 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 “speed kills.” But in this case, speed wins.
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Brought on with one out in the top of 10th inning as a lefty specialist in a 3-3 game, Luetge got lefty swinging Michael Brantley to ground out to second 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. Luetge guessed right on a Stubbs’ stolen base attempt two pitches later and fired a pick-off move to first. However, Stubbs broke for second on first movement as runners are taught to do and didn’t hesitate even with the pick-off throw. In the time, it took for Luetge to fire the ball to first and Justin Smoak to catch it and fire it to second base to shortstop Brendan Ryan, Stubbs was able to slide in ahead of the tag.
“He was just a little quicker than we were,” Luetge said.
Even then with the winning run in scoring position, Luetge looked like he would escape. He fooled the lefty swinging 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 quite make a play on it. Second baseman Dustin Ackley charged hard 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.”
The third out twice escaped Seattle (20-22) because of world class speed. It was almost a given 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.
Luetge knew he was trouble the moment he made the pitch.
“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 didn’t miss it. The ball rocketed over the fence sending the crowd of 34,282 into a frenzy.
“That was the match-up 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 on the night after 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 line-up filled with left-handed and switch hitters – his nemesis. 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 innings. He didn’t work one 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 off of Cleveland 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.
However, the Mariners answered in the sixth inning. Justin Smoak drew a lead-off walk from Jimenez to start the inning. Indians manager Terry Francona called on lefty Rich Hill to face lefty-swinging Raul Ibanez. The match-up seemed favorable for Cleveland, but Ibanez jumped on a 0-1 curveball and hit it out for a two-run homer.
It was Ibanez’s fifth homer in his last six games and seventh of the season. It was also his second homer off of a lefty this season – something he didn’t during all of the regular season last year.
“I’m feeling pretty good at the plate,” he said. “Unfortunately, we came up a little short. It was a great battle and we’ll come back and do it again tomorrow. If we keep fighting and playing like that, good things are going to happen.”
The Mariners had scoring chances in the eighth and 10th but couldn’t come up with the hit.
“We had plenty of chances,” Wedge said. “We still have to do a better job with runners in scoring position. We still have to do a better job of stringing hits together and putting together innings. We’ve showed signs. But we’ve yet to be consistent.”