CLEVELAND: When in doubt, hit the ball out of the park.
Just when the Indians put themselves in position to win by drawing a walk, stealing a base and securing an infield hit, Jason Kipnis lined a drive into the seats in right for his seventh home run of the season, giving the Tribe a 6-3 win over the Seattle Mariners in 10 innings Friday night.
The rally began with Drew Stubbs’ two-out walk off Lucas Luetge and a steal of second. Michael Bourn beat out a slow roller to the right side of the infield to put runners on first and third.
All the Tribe needed was a single, which is what Kipnis was thinking.
“I just needed to slap the ball for a hit, and maybe knowing that helped to slow me down on his off-speed pitch,” Kipnis said. “He threw me a slider and then came back with the same pitch.”
“I just got the bat in a good position and got the ball up in the air,” Kipnis said.
Kipnis struggled through spring training and at the start of the season, but over the past three weeks he has hit all seven of his home runs with 20 RBI.
“People were talking about moving him down in the order,” manager Terry Francona said. “But you have to be patient, and he made that pay off. Not only is he getting hits, he’s getting big hits.”
Even before he got to the plate, Kipnis had an idea of what he wanted to do.
“You always map it out,” he said. “You know what kind of situation you’re going to be in when you get up there. Once you’re on deck, you think nothing but positive [thoughts] and be confident.”
The crowd numbered 34,282, making it the second largest of the season at Progressive Field. Walkup attendees totaled 6,700, the sixth largest such throng in the history of the ballpark.
Not only was all of this proof that winning pays off at the gate, it demonstrated the drawing power of postgame fireworks and Dollar Dog Night.
Before the first pitch, a message flashed on the scoreboard announcing that the fans already had eaten (or at least purchased) more than 15,000 bargain dogs. No further updates were given.
Francona was not cognizant of the crowd during the game.
“It was noticeable before the game,” he said. “But I don’t think about it during the game. I’m glad they came. There were a lot of hot dogs, I know that.”
Ubaldo Jimenez wasn’t consistently sharp, but he was lethal. In five innings, he struck out nine but gave up seven hits and walked two. The Mariners put plenty of runners on base during Jimenez’s time on the mound, but they could not sustain a rally against him.
Kendrys Morales launched a fourth-inning fly ball that cleared the fence for his fifth home run of the season with nobody on base.
Jimenez was charged with two runs, but one was let in by Rich Hill, who was summoned after Jimenez gave up a single to start the sixth inning. Bringing in Hill did not prove to be a beneficial move for the Tribe, as Raul Ibanez whacked his second pitch into the right-field seats for a two-run homer.
Should Francona have left Jimenez in the game? To that point, he had thrown 98 pitches and three of the last four batters he faced reached base. He struck out the other one.
If only Hill had told the manager he was going to give up a home run, Francona would have picked a better option.
“Ubaldo threw the ball very well,” Francona said. “But they fouled off a lot of pitches and he struck out a lot of guys and that got his pitch count up. I didn’t want him to face Ibanez three times, and of course, the exact opposite happens [Ibanez goes deep against a different pitcher].”
The Indians had as much trouble denting the armor of Brandon Maurer as did the Mariners trying to make life miserable for Jimenez. The Tribe has been embarrassingly successful against former Cy Young Award winners and perpetrators of no-hitters, but pitchers with Maurer’s credentials (2-5 record and 5.97 ERA) at times have given the club fits.
In the second inning, Nick Swisher led off with a walk and soon found himself at third following Carlos Santana’s double. Jason Giambi’s sacrifice fly scored Swisher and allowed Santana to reach third, from where he scored on a wild pitch.
With one out in the fifth, Stubbs hit a drive over the wall in right for his third home run of the season, which preceded consecutive singles by Michael Bourn and Kipnis.