While some of you were sleeping, the Indians kept on winning. An impressive outing from Trevor Bauer and three runs in the middle innings powered Cleveland to a sixth straight win with a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.
The Indians (32-24) improved to a season-high eight games above the .500 mark and have now won six straight. The Mariners (31-26) fell to 12-15 at home and are now losers of four straight games.
With the win in the quick two hour and 30 minute contest, the Indians have now put together their longest winning streak since August of last season and have pushed their lead in the American League Central Division to two and a half games, their largest lead since May 20, 2013, when they coincidentally defeated the Mariners on a walk-off three-run home run from Yan Gomes in the bottom of the tenth inning from Progressive Field.
The Indians and Mariners came in with nearly identical records and both had stellar pitching performances from unlikely places as Bauer, who had no luck against the Mariners in his career, faced off with young hard-throwing left-hander James Paxton, who like the Tribe starter was pitching due to an injury in his club’s starting rotation.
Paxton looked to be getting the better of the duel in the early stages of the game, especially when the Seattle starter dodged an early threat by Cleveland. Rajai Davis reached on an infield single to Ketel Marte to lead off the game. He stole second base before Jason Kipnis reached on an error on another ball hit at Marte. Francisco Lindor moved both runners up 90 feet with a grounder to second, but Mike Napoli struck out and Carlos Santana grounded to first to end the scoring chance.
The two pitchers threw punch after punch, with Bauer needing just eleven pitches to get out of the first. Paxton came back with a 12-pitch inning, and Bauer polished off the bottom of the second on just a half dozen throws to the plate.
Seattle struck through in the bottom of the third with a big two-out hit to take the lead. With one down, Marte, fresh off of the disabled list, singled to right and stole second. He moved to third on a grounder to first by Shawn O’Malley. With the inning on the ropes, Nori Aoki singled to center, knocking home Marte with the game’s first run.
The Indians responded in the next half inning and got their starter his first lead to work with on the evening. Santana singled to left and scored all the way from first on a double into the left field corner by Jose Ramirez. The Indians left fielder moved to third on the throw to the plate, where catcher Chris Iannetta was charged an error as he could not field the throw to nail Santana, who would have been out by plenty. Juan Uribe gave the Tribe the lead with a sacrifice fly to right to plate Ramirez and give Cleveland a 2-1 lead.
Bauer struck out his first batters of the night in the fourth inning, sitting down Robinson Cano swinging and Nelson Cruz looking. With two outs, Kyle Seager doubled to left-center and Adam Lind drew a four-pitch “unintentional intentional” walk, but Iannetta went down swinging on four pitches to end the inning.
Cleveland added to their tally in the fifth, when Davis homered to left with one out off of Paxton. The Seattle starter bounced back and struck out Kipnis and Lindor to end the inning, but the Tribe had a 3-1 lead.
Bauer pushed his strikeout total to five after striking out the first two batters of the fifth, giving him five straight outs retired by the K. He struck out two more in the sixth, two more in the seventh, and the first batter of the eighth. He allowed just two more hits on his night after the fourth inning double from Seager – a double by Cruz in the sixth and an infield single deep in the hole at short by Aoki in the eighth, one that Lindor made a stellar barehanded grab and throw to make the play closer than it should have been at first.
Paxton exited after six and handed the ball off to rookie reliever Edwin Diaz and lefty Mike Montgomery, who retired the final nine Indians in order.
Bryan Shaw came on with the tying run at the plate and two outs in the bottom of the eighth and struck out Cano swinging to end the inning. Cody Allen came on for the ninth, getting a grounder from Cruz and strikeouts of Seager and Lind to wrap up the game with his 12th save in 13 opportunities this season.
Both teams managed just five hits on the game, but the Indians made their three runs stand up.
“You’re always evolving. Tonight could have turned out a lot differently,” shared Bauer after the game. “We’re in Seattle, the Seattle air. They hit a couple balls that, at other ball parks are probably out and it looks different. Just one of those things where the hard hit balls went right at people and some of the bloops…it balances out.”
EXCELLENT OUTING FROM BAUER
Bauer (4-2, 3.88 ERA) lasted a season-high seven and two-thirds innings on Monday night, allowing just one run on five hits. He walked one batter and struck out ten, throwing 73 of 109 pitches for strikes. Twenty-one of 29 batters were dealt a first pitch strike from Bauer.
“He drove his fastball to both sides of the plate but he really spun some breaking balls and his offspeed was really good,” said Indians manager Terry Francona in his postgame press conference. “Any time we leave a guy out there in the eighth, especially through the middle of the order, getting to the middle of the order, that tells you something. That last ball that Smith hit, I about swallowed my chew. But he did a really good job. He held his stuff the entire game.”
“I don’t know what was going on the first couple of innings, like I was in a lull or something,” said Bauer. “Then they got a couple of guys on and I got a little adrenaline rush. I was able to cruise from there.”
The Tribe righty had appeared five times (four starts) against the M’s in his career and entered with an 0-4 record with a 6.94 ERA. Cruz and Seager entered with a combined career line of 10-for-19 with two doubles and two homers. They were held to a 2-for-8 total on the night, but did add to their doubles total with one each.
PAXTON IMPRESSES IN LOSS
Paxton (0-2, 3.72) was a far different pitcher than the one who pitched against the San Diego Padres last Wednesday. In that outing, he gave up six runs in the first inning and eight total, but defensive issues made just three of those runs earned. He allowed the damage on ten hits over three and two-thirds innings in that appearance.
On Monday night, he gave the Mariners a quality start, allowing three runs (one earned) on five hits with a walk and ten strikeouts over six innings.
“Paxton was obviously electric stuff. Fortunately, we had five hits, we made them count,” said Francona. “Raj with the solo. Ramirez with a huge [double], and we probably caught a break when it looked like Santana might be out at the plate, but they don’t handle it. But that’s what happens when you’re aggressive and you at least have a chance.”
ELECTRIC MLB DEBUT
Diaz made his Major League debut in the seventh inning and was every bit as electric as rumored. The hard-throwing right-hander and converted starter was hovering in the upper 90s and low 100s, hitting 101 on one particular pitch. He worked one inning, allowing no runs on no hits and struck out one. Of the eleven pitches he threw, ten were for strikes.
“Those first two pitchers…man,” said Francona. “That second kid, didn’t look like his arm hurts.”
The 22-year-old was a third round pick by the Mariners in 2012 and was pitching in his second season at Double-A Jackson when he was promoted to the parent club on Saturday.
The tandem of Paxton and Diaz made many watching the game wonder about the status of the radar gun in operation at Safeco Field. A tweet from Daren Willman, the Director of Baseball Research and Development for MLB.com, indicated that the two Mariners pitchers had thrown more pitches at 99 miles per hour or higher (25) through the first seven innings of Monday night’s game than the club had, in total, in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons (14).
The @Mariners have thrown more pitches 99 MPH+ (25) through 7 innings tonight than they did in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons combined (14)
— Daren Willman (@darenw) June 7, 2016
LUCK OF THE FOUR-GAMER
The Indians have played the same team in four straight games three different times this season. They entered this four-game series with Seattle with an 11-1 record in such series (versus Chicago, Cincinnati, and Kansas City).
They made it a 12-1 mark with Monday night’s win.
Cano struck out three times in four at bats for Seattle on the night for the hat trick. Napoli did him one better, earning a golden sombrero with his 0-for-4 with four strikeouts at the plate. If looking for a positive from the sour night from Napoli, he did see 25 pitches over those four trips.
Prior to the game, Seattle activated shortstop Marte, who had two balls hit right to him immediately to start the game. To make room on the roster for him, outfielder Stefen Romero was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.
WHERE IS JOBA?
The Indians were expected to activate reliever Joba Chamberlain prior to Monday night’s game, but right shoulder soreness from starting pitcher Danny Salazar has changed the Indians’ game plan and scheduled starting staff for the series.
Instead of throwing his scheduled start on Wednesday, Salazar will be pushed back until the weekend. Carlos Carrasco, who was set to start in Tuesday’s game, will be pushed back for an extra day of rest and will now start on Wednesday.
Cody Anderson will rejoin the roster from Triple-A Columbus for a spot start on Tuesday, pitching on his regular rest. Chamberlain is still expected to join the club sometime this series, quite likely replacing Anderson when he returns to Columbus. A roster move will need to be made for the Indians to add Anderson back to the 25-man roster.
Anderson (1-3, 6.81) looked much better in his last outing for the Tribe, making his best start of the season in the second game of a doubleheader in Chicago on May 23, striking out nine while allowing just one earned run on five hits in seven innings. Left-hander Wade Miley (5-2, 5.85), who took the loss earlier this season against Cleveland, will get a second chance at them in Tuesday’s ball game for manager Scott Servais.
First pitch from Safeco Field is scheduled for 10:10 PM ET.
Photo: Otto Gruele Jr./Getty Images