The Indians and Seattle Mariners opened the season with three straight one-run finals, with Cleveland on the losing side of two of three. So of course, it was only fitting to continue the trend as the Indians rallied back from a four-run deficit to tie the game, only to have the bullpen give up a costly response run in the eighth in a 5-4 defeat on Thursday night from Progressive Field.
With the Indians down a key arm in their bullpen, manager Terry Francona called upon his relief corps to step up to the pitching plate in a big moment just after the offense got a rare hit with runners in scoring position to tie the game at four in the bottom of the seventh. Dan Otero handled Jean Segura for the first out of the eighth and newly called up Jeff Beliveau struck out the dangerous Robinson Cano for the second out. The third pitcher of the inning, Nick Goody, could not replicate the prior two’s success as Nelson Cruz doubled to left-center. He was lifted for pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki, who scored with ease as Kyle Seager doubled deep to center as Seattle reclaimed the lead.
Juan Nicasio pitched a quiet eighth, setting down the side in order. Edwin Diaz, who was effectively wild in a pair of saves to open the season against the Indians, shut the Tribe bats down in the ninth, striking out Bradley Zimmer before walking Francisco Lindor, getting Jason Kipnis to fly to left, and striking out Jose Ramirez swinging with his third K of the game to end it.
The win gave the Mariners their 14th of the year and Diaz his tenth save. The Indians dropped to 13-10 on the season as they fell to 7-4 at home.
Clevinger retired the first eight men that he faced in order before a two-out single by Ryon Healy, who was activated from the disabled list prior to the game. Dee Gordon put the Mariners on the board with a hustle triple to the base of the wall in left and he came in to score easily on a double over third base by Segura, giving Seattle a 2-0 lead. Cano came through with the fourth straight hit off of Clevinger, a single to left-center, to make it a 3-0 game before Cruz grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Paxton, who had struggled in his first start of the season against the Indians, was sharp early. He retired all three outs in the first on strikeouts, working around a one-out walk of Kipnis. He got into a little two-out trouble in the second, giving up a single to left to lefty Yonder Alonso before walking Brandon Guyer, but Rajai Davis grounded out, unable to get the runners around. Kipnis singled with one down in the third, but stayed put at first as Ramirez popped out and Edwin Encarnacion struck out swinging.
The Mariners added to their lead in the fourth. Seager got his big night started with a single to center. He moved up to second on a grounder to third by Mitch Haniger. Mike Zunino plated him with a soft single towards the right field line to make it a 4-0 game.
Pitching with a big lead, Paxton still stared down trouble but kept the Indians off the scoreboard in the fourth. Yan Gomes doubled with one out and moved to third on a groundout by Alonso for out number two. Guyer was walked to put runners on the corners, but Davis struck out swinging to strand more base runners in scoring position.
Clevinger settled down after back-to-back innings of giving up runs to give the Indians some length. He allowed a two-out double to Cano in the fifth, but struck out Cruz. A leadoff single by Seager in the sixth was erased on a double play ball by Haniger. He started the seventh but gave up a leadoff walk to Ben Gamel before turning the game over to Otero and the bullpen.
Paxton retired the side in order in the bottom of the fifth for the first time on the night, but the lefty ran into problems with the lefties again in the sixth. Michael Brantley singled to center with one out to get things started. After Paxton struck out Gomes for the second out, Alonso worked a nine-pitch at bat, fouling off several pitches before getting his fourth straight four-seamer. That one got too much of the plate and Alonso gave it a ride to right for a two-run home run to cut the Mariners lead in half.
The Indians struck through for two more in the bottom of the seventh against the Mariners bullpen. Nick Vincent was the first man on, retiring Davis on a grounder to short before plunking Lindor. Old friend Marc Rzepczynski came on for the lefty Kipnis, but Lindor stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch, allowing him to score easily on a double to deep center by the Tribe second baseman, making it a 4-3 game. Dan Altavilla took over but uncorked a wild pitch of his own, allowing Kipnis to move to third before Ramirez struck out. With two outs and a big run standing 90 feet away, Encarnacion delivered with a single to right-center, pushing across Kipnis to temporarily tie the game at four.
Paxton looked much better the second time around against the Indians. Making his first career appearance at Progressive Field while in search of his first career win against Cleveland in his fourth chance, the 29-year-old left-hander lasted six innings on the mound, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks. He threw 100 pitches, 70 for strikes, and matched his career high with ten strikeouts.
Paxton allowed six runs on six hits with four walks and four strikeouts in four and two-thirds innings in his season-opening start in Seattle against the Indians on March 31.
TOUGH THIRD FOR CLEVINGER
Clevinger, who took a no-decision after the Indians rallied back to tie the game late, was cruising along through the first two and two-thirds innings before four straight Mariners hits plated three runs to give them an early lead.
Despite the big hole created, Clevinger allowed just one more run over the rest of the night and pitched deep into the game, saving the bullpen a load of additional stress after five different relievers took the mound in Tuesday night’s loss.
Clevinger worked six-plus innings, allowing four runs on eight hits with a walk and five strikeouts in his first career game against the Mariners and in his first start since throwing a two-hit complete game shutout against Baltimore on Saturday.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
Seager had a rough start to his 2018 season with the Indians in town, going 1-for-10 in the series with four strikeouts. He made up for it a bit on Thursday night, going 3-for-4 with a double, a run scored, and the game-winning RBI in the top of the eighth. It should be of little surprise that his bat would come alive in Cleveland – he entered the series with a career .360/.409/.663 slash in 22 games at Progressive Field with nine doubles, a triple, five home runs, and a dozen RBI.
Yonder Alonso’s good returns against his former club continued on Thursday night. He came into the series against Seattle hitting .300 (3-for-10) against them this season with a double, a homer, two walks, and four RBI, and added to that total with a key two-run shot in the sixth inning, the fourth home run hit by Alonso in his last eight games. He also added a double, giving him five hits in 14 at bats against the M’s this season.
Ramirez’s struggles against the Mariners continued with an 0-for-5 at the plate and an unbelievably uncharacteristic three strikeouts. He is now 0-for-17 against Seattle pitching this season.
NO MILLER TIME
Prior to the game, the Indians announced several roster moves, most notably the addition of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to the 10-day disabled list with a low grade strain of his left hamstring sustained in Wednesday night’s 4-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Miller underwent an MRI earlier in the day that revealed the slight strain. He is not believed to need more than the minimum ten days on the list.
The team also made a pair of corresponding roster moves. Minor league left-handed reliever Jack Leathersich, claimed towards the end of spring training, was designated for assignment to create a spot on the 40-man roster. The contract of fellow lefty Jeff Beliveau was purchased from Triple-A Columbus.
The Indians and Mariners will play game two of their four-game series and game five of their seven-game season set on Friday night in a 7:10 PM ET first pitch from Progressive Field. A pair of right-handers will get the starting nods for their respective clubs.
Erasmo Ramirez (0-1, 9.64) will make his second start of the year for the Mariners. The 27-year-old and one of three natives of Nicaragua in the Majors right now is coming off of a less-than-stellar debut against the Texas Rangers in his only appearance of the season, allowing five runs on five hits in four and two-thirds innings of work. It will be the eighth time that he has faced the Indians in his career (1-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.01 WHIP).
Corey Kluber (3-1, 1.96) will counter for Cleveland. He is coming off of his third straight win after going seven innings against Baltimore on Sunday. He faced the Mariners in his first start of the season, throwing a complete game while allowing just two runs on six hits in eight innings in a loss.
And finally, here are the answers to Thursday’s Tribe Trivia!
This first baseman with some home run pop joined the Indians from the Minnesota Twins just before the start of the 1992 season and put up a consistent numbers for Cleveland as they worked towards a World Series appearance in 1995. After that season, he was non-tendered by the Indians and signed with the Mariners for $1 million. Who am I?
– Paul Sorrento
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images