By CHRIS ASSENHEIMER
CLEVELAND â€” A visit from the Seattle Mariners, the American Leagueâ€™s worst team, was supposed to be a blessing for the Indians, who were playing their best baseball of the season and on the verge of climbing back to the .500 mark for the first time since mid-May.
Instead, it wound up being a curse.
The Indians dropped all three games to the lowly Mariners, culminating in a 6-4 defeat Sunday, which ensured that Seattle would not go sweepless in Cleveland and that Tribe fans would no longer entertain delusional notions of their team climbing back into the Central Division race.
The Indians lacked the timely hit throughout the series, leaving 10 on base in the finale. On the heels of averaging seven runs during a season-long 10-game winning streak, Cleveland scored just nine runs in three games against one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors.
â€œAll three of these games we were a run or a hit away from tying the ballgame and we ended up losing all three,â€ said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose club was swept for the ninth time this year. â€œThat was really the story of the series. But thatâ€™s baseball.â€
What wound up as the clincher in the Marinersâ€™ second sweep of the year began as pitching duel between starters Zach Jackson (Cleveland) and Seattleâ€™s Ryan Rowland-Smith.
The pair of left-handers surrendered just a run apiece through the first four innings, both on home runs in the second from Seattleâ€™s Adrian Beltre and Clevelandâ€™s Shin-Soo Choo, and appeared to be en route to quality outings.
Only Rowland-Smith was able to finish his off, with things unraveling for Jackson and the Indians in the fifth inning, the Mariners scoring five times to all but seal the win.
Jackson had himself to blame for igniting the Seattle rally, hitting Jeff Clement with a pitch with one out in the inning, then throwing errantly to first on a bunt from the following batter, Miguel Cairo, on a questionable decision. It was a long shot that Jackson would have gotten Cairo with a good toss after fielding the bunt to the third-base side and throwing off-balance.
Both runners scored on singles from Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez before Beltre hit his second homer off Jackson â€” a blast to left on the first pitch he saw to put the Mariners in front 6-1.
â€œI felt like I was in control up to that point in the game,â€ said Jackson, who got his first decision in four starts for the Indians since being acquired in the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee. â€œIt was basically up to that bunt. I tried to be aggressive and make the play and I threw it away.
â€œStill, I wouldnâ€™t have done anything differently. Iâ€™m an aggressive pitcher. Iâ€™m going to try and make that play.â€
Wedge saw it differently, thinking his pitcher never should have made the throw.
â€œThatâ€™s a ball he just needs to eat,â€ he said. â€œIt just kind of dominoed on him from there.â€
The Indians didnâ€™t find their offense until late with Rowland-Smith allowing just one earned run on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings and Cleveland failing to cash in sufficiently when scoring opportunities arrived.
After scoring once and leaving the bases loaded in the seventh, the Indians packed the bags again with no outs in the eighth. They got a run when the Mariners botched a double-play ball from Franklin Gutierrez and another on a ground out from Kelly Shoppach that pulled them to within two runs before Suzuki made a sliding catch on Andy Marteâ€™s sinking fly ball to right.
Cleveland was back at work in the ninth against erratic right-hander Roy Corcoran, who walked the first two batters and a third after striking out Victor Martinez to allow the Indians to load the bases for the third consecutive inning.
The Marines got off the hook again when Ryan Garko bounced sharply back to the mound, where Corcoran deflected the ball to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to start a game-ending double play.
â€œWe were a hit away the whole series,â€ Wedge said. â€œEven that ball Garko hit, a couple of inches, and maybe that gets into center field.â€
A couple of losses, and the Indians are right back where they started, trying to reach the elusive .500 level.
Assenheimer may be reached at email@example.com or 440-329-7137.