Ninth Inning Rally Falls Short for Tribe in Opener; Mariners 2, Indians 1
Bob Toth | On 30, Mar 2018
A streak of wildness from Seattle closer Edwin Diaz gave Cleveland a chance in the ninth inning, but the rally fell short for the Indians as they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Mariners in game one of the 2018 regular season.
Baseball is officially under way and fans at Safeco Field and around the country were treated to a well-pitched game between former Cy Young winners Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez that was one of the lowest scoring games of the day. One first inning swing by the Mariners would turn out to be the difference, but the Indians fought to the final out in an attempt to claim an Opening Day win.
After pulling within a run in the seventh inning, the Indians were down to their final three outs with the middle of their order coming up against the Mariners’ hard-throwing young closer Diaz. Yonder Alonso struck out on three pitches, called out on a checked swing on a 99 mph two-seamer up. Diaz’s next pitch, however, went up and in on Edwin Encarnacion and the hit by pitch gave the Indians an opportunity. Rajai Davis pinch-ran and immediately caused havoc, causing Diaz to throw repeatedly to first base before failing to come to a complete set on his first pitch to Lonnie Chisenhall, balking the Tribe’s 37-year-old speed threat to second. After falling behind, Chisenhall was grazed by a slider to put two on for Yan Gomes. Davis stole third and Chisenhall would steal second later in the at bat, but Gomes was cut down swinging for the second out. Tyler Naquin stepped in as the Tribe’s last hope, as a base hit could give the Indians the lead, but instead, he fouled off four pitches before cutting and missing on a fastball in to end the game.
Diaz’s sloppy ninth included three strikeouts, two hit batters, two stolen bases, and 20 pitches, but one big save.
Kluber took the mound in midseason form, but a first inning mistake would prove to be the difference in the ball game. After the Indians went down in order in the top of the first, Kluber welcomed Dee Gordon to the American League by striking him out to start the home half. Jean Segura hit one back in front of the plate that was fielded by Gomes perfectly for the second out. Robinson Cano kept the inning alive with a single to right that was played well by Chisenhall to keep the Mariners second baseman limited to one base. That would prove to be insignificant, however, as the very next pitch from Kluber to Nelson Cruz, a cutter over the plate, was redirected over the wall in center for a two-out, two-run home run to put the Mariners up 2-0.
The Indians had their first threat in the next half inning after Alonso struck out. Encarnacion reached on catcher’s interference and after a pop up by Chisenhall, Gomes drew a walk to put two on for Naquin. But as was the case later in the game, Naquin struck out swinging to strand a pair.
The defense behind Kluber came to his aid several times during the game. Mike Marjama ended the second with a twin-killing after Mitch Haniger started the frame with a single to center. After Gordon worked a four-pitch walk in the third, Segura grounded into a double play. In the fifth, Haniger started the inning with a ground-rule double into the left field corner, but two batters later, Marjama sent a screamer up the middle. Francisco Lindor snared the ball in his webbing, knocking it to the ground before picking it up and firing to first for a big second out that may have prevented a run from scoring.
The Indians short-circuited their own rallies in the fourth and sixth innings with double play groundouts, but would strike for their first run of the season in the seventh. Former Indian reliever Marc Rzepczynski retired Alonso on one pitch to start the inning before turning the game over to Nick Vincent. He got Encarnacion to fly to left, but Chisenhall kept the inning alive with a double to right. Gomes lofted a fly ball to shallow center that somehow dropped between Gordon and Segura, scoring Chisenhall with the Tribe’s first run of the season. Naquin singled the opposite way to move Gomes into scoring position, but Bradley Zimmer lined out to first to end the inning.
SITTING ON THE THRONE
“King Felix” was on a pitch count from the jump after missing a chunk of time in the spring after being hit by a liner. He did not let that affect how he went about his business on the mound as he held the Indians to just two hits in five and one-third innings. He walked two and struck out four and was supported by five different pitchers in relief to earn his first win of the season.
It was the eleventh time in Hernandez’s career that he had started for the Mariners on Opening Day. That number includes his current streak of ten straight game one starts.
To make a statement uttered quite a bit throughout his career, the Indians wasted a strong start from Kluber on the mound by failing to provide adequate run support. He earned the rare Opening Day complete game with eight innings of work in Seattle, allowing the two first inning runs on six hits in total with a walk and eight strikeouts. He needed just 91 pitches, throwing 66 for strikes. Of those strikes, 18 came on the first pitch of an at bat. He was able to keep the Mariners at bay by keeping the ball on the ground, getting 13 outs on the ground as opposed to three in the air.
Kluber’s Opening Day start was his fourth straight.
TRIBE 2018 FIRSTS
1st AB – Lindor
1st hit – Kipnis (single in the 3rd)
1st extra base hit – Chisenhall (double, 7th inning)
1st walk – Gomes (2nd inning)
1st hit by pitch – Encarnacion (9th inning)
1st RBI – Gomes (single in 7th)
1st run – Chisenhall
1st stolen base – Davis (9th inning)
1st pitch (by Indians) – 90 MPH sinker from Kluber for a foul ball
1st oddity – Encarnacion reaches on catcher’s interference (2nd inning)
In a cruel and twisted gesture, there will be no baseball between the Indians and Mariners on Friday, despite the series occurring in a domed venue. Play will resume on Saturday afternoon at 4:10 PM ET with right-hander Carlos Carrasco and left-hander James Paxton slated as the pitching probables.
Carrasco was 18-6 last season with a 3.29 ERA and is coming off of a fourth place finish in the Cy voting. He made 32 starts on the year and reached the 200 innings pitched mark for the first time in his career. Paxton stepped up big when Hernandez struggled and was hurt a season ago and had his best season in the Majors. He went 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP for the season and could have done even better, but he lost nearly two months of the season to two separate injuries.
Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images