SEATTLE: Channeling his inner Al Davis, Indians managerTerry Francona had only one wish for his beleaguered team entering Wednesday’s game at Safeco Field: Just win, baby.
Didn’t matter to the veteran skipper how his stumbling club did it. Just that somehow, the Tribe escaped from Safeco Field with a “W” in hand in the series finale. That way, they could enjoy the long plane ride home to Northeast Ohio and a much-needed off-day Thursday before opening a seven-game homestand Friday at Progressive Field.
But the Indians did more than hand Francona a soul-soothing victory that snapped the Mariners eight-game winning streak.
Veteran left-hander Scott Kazmir limited Seattle batters to an unearned run on one hit over eight dominating innings and the Tribe’s offense came alive with 13 hits that included Michael Bourn’s first career grand slam in a 10-1 victory.
The win not only overshadowed another pair of Tribe errors, but as Francona hoped, just might go a long way in helping the Indians shake off a tough 2-4 start to the second half of the season.
“That was much needed and a good day,” Francona said with a long sigh of relief. “We have a long flight home and a day off. We get a chance to regroup (Thursday). It’s just nice to bounce back because we had a couple tough ones. It was nice to see some results.”
The Mariners’ lone hit against Kazmir came in the fifth inning via first baseman Justin Smoak’s leadoff single. But it did little harm in the end as Kazmir cruised, issuing just two walks and striking out seven.
“Everything’s feeling good out there,” said Kazmir, who had never allowed just one hit over eight innings in his 12-year career and who now boasts a 1.60 ERA over his last seven starts. “I’m able to get ahead in the count, throw my secondary pitches for strikes as well as bear down (with my fastball) when I need to for strikeouts.”
Before Kazmir even started dealing, the Indians offense handed him an early 3-0 lead in the first inning against Mariners' starter Joe Saunders on back-to-back doubles by Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana.
Bourn led off the game by beating out an infield bunt and Nick Swisher followed with a walk. Jason Kipnis sacrificed the pair over and Cabrera and Santana delivered the big blows that once again put the Tribe on the board first.
“I felt it was a good way to start off the game,” Bourn said. “I was able to do it, Swish worked the walk, Kip played baseball and we got ahead real quick.
But getting out to an early lead had meant little before Wednesday on the frustrating road trip. The Tribe had gotten on the board first in each game, but still entered Wednesday with just one win to show for it.
But this time the offense kept the pressure on the struggling Saunders, a lefty who dished up six runs (five earned) on nine hits and five walks in just 4 2/3 innings. And while the error fest that had been on display throughout the road trip continued, this time the only damage inflicted was keeping Kazmir from earning a shutout.
A bad throw by shortstop Cabrera on an attempted force play at second base led to Seattle’s lone run in the second inning, trimming the Tribe’s lead to 3-1. The two-out error was the Tribe’s eighth in six games and snapped Cabrera’s 52-game errorless streak.
But the Mariners quickly returned the favor in the top of the third inning when centerfielder Michael Saunders misplayed a ball that allowed Cabrera to reach second. Santana promptly followed with his second RBI double, pushing the lead back to three runs.
Bourn put the game out of reach in the fifth against Mariners reliever Hector Noesi, launching first career grand slam that widened the gap to 8-1.
“To be honest with you, I saw a good pitch and I just handled it,” Bourn said. “I was able to put the barrel on the ball. I really wasn’t trying to do too much. But I guess that’s the way it always happens.”
The Indians tacked on two additional runs via a solo homer by Cabrera in the sixth inning and a Mark Reynolds’ bases-loaded groundout in the ninth.
With such a big lead and Kazmir up to 103 pitches, Francona opted against letting him go back out to finish the game.
“He desperately wanted to,” Francona said. “We actually had to track him down as he was going down the tunnel. But from what he’s been through and where he’s at, that would have been more managing with my heart than my brain.”
Turns out Kazmir understood why Francona had reliever Vinnie Pestano up, warming and poised to take over in the ninth inning.
“I was just playing with him,” Kazmir said with a laugh. “I saw him coming down from the other end of the dugout to tell me good job. I wanted to go out there for that last one, but I understood.”