SEATTLE: It’s never a good combination to employ a skittish defense behind a rusty pitcher making his first start in a month and half following a disabled list stint.
But that was the reality that quickly emerged for the struggling Indians Tuesday, in the second game of a three-game series at Safeco Field. And it was one that resulted in an ugly 4-3 defeat that all but gift-wrapped the Mariners season-high eighth consecutive win.
Although the Indians professed to being thrilled to welcome back young right-hander Zach McAllister (who’d hadn’t pitched since June 2 while recovering from a sprained right middle finger), they sure didn’t act like like it.
A trio of errors in the first two innings could easily have been four without one curious scoring decision. It was a tough stretch of defense that included a fielding and throwing miscue by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall got McAllister off to a rough start from the get go.
“It’s just part of the game,” McAllister said. “It’s our job to pick up the position players when they don’t make the plays. We have all the trust in them that they’re going to pick us up later on.”
Despite escaping the first two forgettable frames with a 3-1 advantage thanks to Yan Gomes’ two-out, two-run home run in the second, McAllister went ahead and threw gasoline on the heaping mess in the third.
The Mariners lengthy three-run third inning consisted of five hits – incluing three doubles and a run-scoring wild pitch – before McAllsiter was finally able to retire to the dugout. After three innings, he’d already thrown 77 pitches. Yet somehow, trailed just 4-3.
“Overall, I though (McAllister) looked pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It made it hard to judge a little bit because we made him work so hard with so many extra opportunities where we’re not making plays.
“He had good velocity, thought he was crisp, had a very good change up and he kept his composure. You know, first time back and he hadn’t pitched in awhile and we’re making throw a lot of pitches.”
After the shaky start, McAllister battled to keep the Indians in the game for two more innings, making it through five on a night where he nearly didn’t escape the third inning.
“He went through a little stretch there where he left a couple [pitches out over the plate to their big hitters and they drove the ball to left center,” Francona said. “But then he reeled it back in and started coming back in again and was effective.”
In the end, his line for the night wasn’t much different than Mariner’s starter Erasmo Ramirez - save for taking a loss to his opponent’s win. McAllister allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits and three walks and struck out five.
“I felt good,” McAllister said. “It was nice to be able to get back out there again and take the ball. The finger felt good and I felt under control. That one inning just kind of hurt me a little bit.
Ramirez lasted just 2/3 of inning longer, giving up three runs on a similar eight hits and two walks, striking out four after allowing the Tribe to take the first lead on back-to-back two-out hits by Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera.
But all the early action settled down with each team’s bullpen in play. Yoernis Medina took over for Ramirez and tossed 2 1/3 scoreless frames, while Matt Albers took over for McAllister and promptly quieted the Mariners bats for two innings to keep the deficit at one run heading into the eighth inning.
Indians reliever Cody Allen chipped in a hitless bottom of the eighth inning before the Mariners sent closer Tom Wilhelmsen out to the mound looking for his second save in as many days.
The Indians at least made it interesting and then fittingly bizarre. First baeman Mark Reynolds led off the ninth inning with a single and Chisnehall followed with a single while Reynolds scampered two bases over to third.
But just as quickly as the Tribe put runners on the corners, Gomes hit into a strange double play that forced pinch runner Mike Aviles at second base, followed by pinch runner Drew Stubbs getting caught in a run down between third and home plate to complete a standard 5-4-2-6 double play.
“We were running through a couple different scenarios over there and when he went to second, I should have just broke for home,” Stubbs said. “I didn’t and instead hesistated. And it cost us.”
Michael Bourn, the Tribe’s final breath of hope, thought he’d worked a full-count walk to keep his team’s last hopes alive and Wilhelmsen on the ropes. But the Tribe’s speedy leadoff man was instead rung up by home plate umpire Adrian Johnson in dramatic - and fitting - fashion to end the game as Wilhelmsen came though to notch his 23rd save.
One slight silver lining for the Indians is that with a get-away day game Wednesday to wrap up the series, there’s little time to dwell too much on Tuesday’s slew of bad breaks that have simply added to what’s become an alarming trend: seven errors in the first five games of this six-game road trip.
“First, we need to win tomorrow,” Francona said. “But then we need to get back home, get out there and get some early work because we’re not catching the ball very well.”