SEATTLE: Before the game, manager Manny Acta was asked about the best way to attack former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, tonight’s starter for the Mariners.
“”When you’re facing a guy like Felix, it’s not about him,’’ Acta said. “”It’s about your own pitcher and his ability to keep it close.’’
Maybe Josh Tomlin was eavesdropping. Or maybe he just knew. Tomlin (1-1, 4.86 ERA) delivered eight strong innings, allowing one run, five hits and no walks, giving the Tribe the opportunity to rally in the ninth and win 2-1.
“”I couldn’t be prouder of my little cowboy,’’ said Acta, referring to the Texas born and bred Tomlin, who has the drawl to match. “”He stayed with Felix pitch for pitch. He was fantastic.’’
Hernandez was gone by the ninth, which was Acta’s point. After Hernandez threw eight shutout innings and gave up five hits while striking out 12, closer Brandon League took over and failed to protect a 1-0 lead.
Carlos Santana began the rally with a leadoff walk, Travis Hafner singled and Casey Kotchman bunted the runners to second and third. League walked Shelley Duncan to load the bases, and Jack Hannahan hit a hard ground ball just out of the reach of diving third baseman Kyle Seager to score Santana and Aaron Cunningham, who ran for Hafner.
“”Kotchman’s sac bunt was huge,’’ Acta said. ‘’It was a big key.’’
Hannahan looked up to see where his ball was headed and became fearful.
“”It was probably an inch from being a double play’’ he said. “”As soon as I hit it, I looked up and saw Seaqer dive. He probably missed it by an inch.’’
Chris Perez retired the side in order in the ninth for his fourth save, but he talked about Tomlin.
“”It was definitely his best start of the year,’’ Perez said. “”That might be the best I’ve ever seen him throw.’’
Tomlin had several gut-wrenching moments and escaped all but once, the Mariners scoring their run in the fifth inning but just barely.
Michael Saunders led off the inning with a double and was sacrificed to third by Miguel Olivo. With the infield playing in to cut down the run at the plate, John Jaso slapped a ground ball to Jason Kipnis at second. With his momentum carrying him toward the plate, Kipnis threw on the run, the ball sailing over the head of catcher Santana for an error. Saunders scored and Jaso to reached second on the error.
Would an accurate throw have beaten the runner? It would have been close but probably not. Appropriately, the official scorer credited Jaso with an RBI, which meant the run scored on the bouncer and not on the error.
In two other innings, Tomlin made the right pitches to escape danger.
With one out in the second, Seager doubled but was forced to stop at third on Saunders’ single. Olivo followed by bouncing into a double play.
Dustin Ackley led off the fourth with a double and took third on a wild pitch that Ichiro Suzuki swung at and missed for strike three.
With the infield playing in, Justin Smoak drilled a line drive that would have bounced off the head of Kotchman at first, but somehow he got his glove up to make the catch. Seager followed by hitting a ground ball up the middle, and Jason Donald threw him out with the help of a long stretch by Kotchman.
“”I think having a good changeup tonight was key with all the lefties in their lineup,’’ Tomlin said.
The Tribe had only one legitimate chance against Hernandez and botched it. That happened in the eighth, when Jack Hannahan singled with one out, and Donald reached with a rolling single that Hernandez couldn’t grab in time. Michael Brantley followed with a ground ball that caromed off the glove of a diving Ackley at second for a hit that loaded the bases.
No sweat for Hernandez, who struck out Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo to end the inning and his outing on his 126th pitch.
“”No, I didn’t think one run would be enough for them,’’ Tomlin said. “”Our offense put together good at-bats all night.’’
Added Acta, “”When you dodge a guy like Hernandez, whether you beat him or not, you have to feel good.’’