CLEVELAND – The Indians couldn’t beat unheralded starting pitchers David Pauley or Jason Vargas in the first two games of the series against Seattle. But Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who is an American League Cy Young candidate? No problem.
The up-and-down Cleveland offense was up and then some Sunday at Progressive Field, avoiding the sweep from the last-place Mariners by swinging its way to a 9-1 victory.
“It wasn’t a very good homestand but we ended it on a positive note,” said manager Manny Acta, whose team went 3-6 over the nine-game homestand, losing consecutive series to last-place Baltimore and Seattle.
With Hernandez doing a number on the Indians out of the gate, it appeared Cleveland was looking at a 2-7 record instead.
But a game that began as a pitching duel between Hernandez and Justin Masterson saw the complexion change drastically in a seven-run seventh inning for the Indians. And there was some luck involved.
Hernandez retired the first two hitters he faced in the inning before an error on second baseman Chone Figgins opened the door for the Indians and closed the book on the Mariners’ right-hander.
After Luis Valbuena reached on the error, Lou Marson and Michael Brantley produced singles, Brantley’s liner to center scoring Valbuena with the first run of the game. Hernandez allowed a bloop double to Asdrubal Cabrera that scored another run before Shin-Soo Choo was intentionally walked to load the bases for Travis Hafner.
“They walked Choo to get to me and you kind of take it personal,” said Hafner, who was playing in his first game back from the disabled list. “You want to go up there and do some damage.”
Hafner accomplished as much by locating a 2-1 sinker from Hernandez and driving it over the center-field wall for a grand slam that put Cleveland up 6-0. With Hernandez in the dugout, Jayson Nix followed Hafner’s slam with a solo shot to left off Sean White.
“A lot of good things happened in that inning,” Hafner said.
“(Hernandez) was just toying with us, basically, but in that seventh inning, the guys put together some quality at-bats,” Acta said.
Hernandez was charged with six runs – all of them unearned – on six hits, while walking four and striking out seven over 6 2/3 innings.
Masterson was effectively wild, walking six over six innings, and keeping pace with Hernandez by shutting out the Mariners and allowing just a hit.
“This is the greatest game ever,” Acta said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy go six innings and allow just one hit throwing more balls than strikes. The guys in the bullpen thought they were going to get a call in that first inning. It says a lot about his stuff. When he’s around the plate, he can get guys out.”
Masterson walked the first two batters he faced and threw 100 pitches, 51 of them balls.
“I had a lot of movement on the ball,” said Masterson, who is 1-1 with a 2.81 ERA over his last three starts. “A few of the walks were pitches that were close. I didn’t want to give in at any point in time. Never was I like, ‘Oh, man, I can’t find the zone.”’
Masterson’s best tightrope act came in the fifth when he allowed three of the first four hitters he faced to reach base but didn’t allow a run after retiring Seattle’s top two hitters, Ichiro Suzuki and Figgins, to end the inning.
Masterson did not get a decision with the win going to Tony Sipp, but the right-hander could take solace in outpitching one of the American League’s best in Hernandez.
“Felix was pitching a great game himself,” Masterson said. “We just kind of stayed the course and made it happen at the end.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.