SEATTLE: Indians manager Terry Francona had only one wish for his beleaguered team entering Wednesday’s game at Safeco Field: Just win.
Didn’t matter to the veteran skipper how his struggling club did it. Just that somehow, he hoped the Tribe would escape from Safeco Field with a win in the series finale and enjoy the long plane ride home to Northeast Ohio and a much-needed day off.
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 to an unearned run on one hit over eight dominant innings and the Tribe’s offense came alive with 13 hits, including Michael Bourn’s first career grand slam, in a 10-1 victory.
The win overshadowed another pair of Tribe errors, but as Francona hoped, might go a long way in helping the Indians shake off a tough 1-4 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 on first baseman Justin Smoak’s leadoff single. But it did little harm 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 in as many as 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 on the strength of back-to-back doubles by Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana against Seattle starter Joe Saunders.
Bourn led off the game by beating out an infield bunt and Nick Swisher followed with a walk. Jason Kipnis sacrificed and Cabrera and Santana delivered the big blows that 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.
But this time the offense kept the pressure on the struggling Saunders, a lefty who allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits and five walks in 4⅔ innings. And while the errorfest 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 at second base led to Seattle’s lone run in the second inning and trimmed 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 center fielder 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 his first career grand slam to widen 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 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.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.