SEATTLE — First, it was walks the threatened Thursday night to torpedo the Mariners. In the end, the difference was a golf shot the propelled the Cleveland Indians to a 5-3 victory at Safeco Field.
Joaquin Benoit had, with one out in the eighth inning, just issued the eighth walk of the game by a Mariners pitcher. Tyler Naquin followed by reaching down for a change-up and lofting it over the right-field wall.
"What a huge lift for us," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And that’s a guy (Benoit) who doesn’t give up many home runs to left-handed hitters."
Naquin’s floater forced the Mariners to settle for a split in the four-game series. The loss also dropped them to four games behind first-place Texas, which arrives Friday for a three-game weekend series.
"Our whole night revolved around the walk," manager Scott Servais said. "We walked eight guys tonight, which was a season high…We didn’t control the strike zone tonight. That’s the name of the game."
Benoit (1-1) compounded his problems in the eighth inning with a two-base throwing error after fielding a squibber by Chris Gimenez. That turned into another run on Jason Kipnis’ two-out ground single.
The Mariners’ attack consisted of three solo homers, including two against Indians starter Josh Tomlin. Robinson Cano hit two homers and boosted his season total to 18.
For all that, the Mariners just a little more from Cano, who struck out with two runners on base for the game’s final out.
"That’s the game," he said. "Not every at-bat are you going to succeed. You just put this game away and get ready for this weekend (against Texas)."
Cano’s first homer gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Adam Lind the erased a 2-1 deficit with a leadoff drive in the seventh.
Lind’s homer came after Cleveland took the lead earlier in the seventh on Mike Napoli’s two-out infield single against rookie reliever Edwin Diaz, who started that inning by walking Gimenez.
Cano’s second homer came in the eighth against reliever Bryan Shaw after the Indians took a three-run lead in the top of the inning.
The Mariners also got the tying runs on base in the eighth against Shaw before closer Cody Allen retired Ketel Marte on a grounder. Allen then wobbled through the ninth for his 13th save.
Dan Otero (1-0) got the victory after replacing Tomlin and getting the final two outs in the seventh inning.
Mariners starter Nathan Karns gave up just two hits but he walked five and threw 92 pitches before exiting with one out in the fifth inning.
"I’m battling myself out there," he said. "The walks are a clear indication I struggled with command…When you don’t (throw strikes), it’s a long inning, and it’s hard to keep everyone else in rhythm."
Cano two-out drive in the first inning staked Karns to a 1-0 lead. It was 421-foot drive to center on a 2-1 cutter, but the Mariners could have had more.
Nelson Cruz followed with a single and tried to score on Kyle Seager’s drive off the top of the left-field wall. But Rajai Davis relayed the ball to shortstop Francisco Lindor, who made a strong throw to the plate.
Cruz was out.
Karns lost the strike zone after yielding a two-out single in the second to Davis. Walks to Naquin and Gimenez loaded the bases for leadoff hitter Carlos Santana, who sent a drive deep into the left-center gap.
Nori Aoki ran it down for the final out.
The Mariners missed a two-out chance in the third inning after Cano’s double put runners at second and third. Tomlin escaped by retiring Cruz on a lazy fly to right.
Karns lost the strike zone again with one out in the fifth by issuing successive walks. And that was enough. In came Mike Montgomery, got a fielder’s-choice grounder before issuing another walk that loaded the bases.
Jose Ramirez just missed a grand slam on a drive that hooked foul to left before poking an RBI single into right. Lindor tried to score from second, but Cruz’s throw beat him to the plate.
Still, it was 1-1.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Center fielder Leonys Martin should return Friday from the disabled list and provide the Mariners with a defensive upgrade.
But Nori Aoki saved at least two and possibly four runs with a leaping/diving catch on the track in left-center field on Carlos Santana’s two-out drive with the bases loaded in the second inning.
PLAY II OF THE GAME: Nelson Cruz prevented the Indians from taking the lead in the fifth inning on Jose Ramirez’s two-out single to right with the bases loaded.
Cruz made an accurate throw to catcher Chris Iannetta, who held the ball when Francisco Lindor initiated contact with a no-slide bump.
It was Cruz’s second assist of the year, but his first on a throw to the plate.
PLUS: Robinson Cano is batting .298 after going 3-for-5…eight different Mariners had at least one hit…center fielder Nori Aoki had two hits in addition to his circus catch in the second inning…Kyle Seager went 2-for-4 as the designated hitter…Seth Smith was 2-for-5 and has reached base at least once in 17 of his last 18 home games.
MINUS: Veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit had his worst game with the Mariners in giving up three runs. Only two were earned but all were deserved. The unearned run was the result of his own throwing error….The Mariners were twice thrown out on the bases by left fielder Rajai Davis.
STAT PACK: Robinson Cano has three multi-homer games this season and 18 in his career. His three extra-base hits also matched a career high, achieved on 18 previous occasions.
QUOTABLE: "Anytime you walk people like that…," manager Scott Servais said. "You have to give them credit. They laid off some pitches that were close. But, yeah, you’d rather have them bang the ball around the park against you versus (losing by) walking them."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners