CLEVELAND: It was the kind of game the Indians would have lost last year or most of the last century. But this is not your grandfather’s Indians, maybe not even your older cousin’s.
So the Tribe went rolling merrily along, winning for the 16th time in the past 20 games by befuddling the Seattle Mariners 5-4 Saturday at Progressive Field.
Maybe the Indians didn’t stupefy the visitors so much as the Mariners baffled themselves after delivering a heroic two-homer rally in the ninth inning to tie the score.
Well, so what? The Tribe already had three walk-off wins this season, so the situation was nothing new or scary.
Events transpired this way:
Instead of using a two-run lead to earn a save, Chris Perez gave up consecutive two-out homers to Raul Ibanez and Justin Smoak to give the Mariners a tie.
But Jason Kipnis opened the ninth with a soft single to center and Asdrubal Cabrera doubled him to third, forcing Seattle manager Eric Wedge to order Nick Swisher be walked intentionally to load the bases and make possible a force at every base.
For an instant, it looked like the strategy would work. With the infield playing in for a play at the plate, Mark Reynolds slapped a ground ball toward the shortstop hole. Brendan Ryan had to make a sprawling stop, but his throw to the plate looked as if it would beat Kipnis.
That turned out not to matter, because catcher Jesus Montero, on his knees waiting for the throw, didn’t bother to put his foot on the plate. Umpire Mike Winters gave the safe sign, then with a sweeping movement of his hands indicated that Montero’s foot was off the plate.
Cue the fireworks.
“The throw beat him, but Monty came off the plate early,” said Wedge, clearly angry. “You have to stand on the plate. You have to, but he came out a little bit early. We got the ground ball we wanted — Ryno made a great play — but we didn’t get it done.”
Manager Terry Francona knew Montero’s foot was off the plate when the throw reached him; he didn’t know whether the catcher’s foot slid off the plate or never was on the plate.
“I didn’t think when he caught the ball he was on the plate,” Francona said.
Kipins was just running as fast as he could.
“It was a heck of a play by the shortstop,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to slide, stand up or run into him [Montero]. I didn’t know if I had it [beat or not].”
Reynolds more often has used his power stroke as a difference maker than a ground ball to the left side. His conventional weapon showed itself in the fifth inning, when he homered for the 12th time this season.
Of his crucial ground ball RBI, he said: “Please get through. Please make a bad throw. Please beat the throw. Please make something bad happen [to them].”
Wishing doesn’t make it so, but the Indians have handled the pressure of tight games and coming from behind with aplomb up to now.
“We made it a little more exciting than it needed to be,” Francona said. “But there’s something to be said for being resilient.
“We never want to feel like we’re out of it. We don’t think there’s a matchup we can’t win. So we play and play and play until they tell us to stop. And things like today should help our confidence.”
Perez’s problem was that he threw two hittable pitches.
“The one to Smoak, I didn’t think was that bad of a pitch,” he said. “But it probably was, because he hit it out. The other one [to Ibanez], I missed my spot totally and he hit it.”
Zach McAllister started and after seven innings, he had not given up a run. But Montero led off the eighth with a double and one out later, Ryan hit his first home run of the season, signaling the end of McAllister’s work day.
Through seven innings, he gave up four hits and a walk. During one stretch, he retired 11 of 12 batters. The only one who reached, Smoak, drew a walk and was erased on a double play.
“Zach pitched to contact,” Francona said. “It was a pitcher-friendly day [wind was blowing in], and both pitchers used that. Zach has pitched very well for us. For a young kid, he’s really been reliable.”
That tendency began last year and has intensified in 2013.
In his past four games, McAllister has averaged seven innings per start and compiled a 1.93 ERA with only six walks in 28 innings.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.