CLEVELAND — The roller-coaster nature of the emotions surging through the Mariners in a wild ninth inning was still evident on drained-looking faces in the clubhouse after this latest defeat.
Twice down to their final out with nobody on base Saturday, the Mariners rallied on solo home runs by Raul Ibanez and Justin Smoak to tie a game in which many fans had already been streaming toward the exits. Those early-birds had to return to their seats and wait for the bottom of the ninth to see this one settled, with the Mariners taking a 5-4, walkoff loss to the Cleveland Indians.
With the bases loaded and none out, Brendan Ryan made a diving snag of a Mark Reynolds grounder and an off-balance throw home. But catcher Jesus Montero took his foot off the plate in trying to reach for the ball before the runner got there, allowing the decisive run to score.
“It was unbelievable because Brendan caught the ball with a diving catch,” Montero said. “It was unbelievable, first of all. Second, I tried to touch the plate, but the throw was so far. I tried hard, but (the runner) hit home plate. What can I say?”
Montero isn’t the most athletic of catchers and doesn’t get to practice stretching out for throws like a first baseman would all that often.
“That’s the reason right there,” he said. “We usually block the plate. But in that moment, I was thinking ‘Just touch the plate and catch the ball.’ But the ball was a little far.”
It was a tough way to lose a game the Mariners truly had no business still being in by that point. Some grinding work by starter Joe Saunders through 5-1/3 innings and then eight straight outs recorded by reliever Danny Farquhar had managed to keep the Mariners within four runs.
But they were handcuffed all day on offense by Indians starter Zach McAllister. The Mariners had only four hits by the eighth inning, when Smoak doubled off the left-field wall and Ryan then stunned the crowd by rocketing a ball over the same fence for his first home run of the season.
That made it a 4-2 game. Then, in the ninth, after Indians closer Chris Perez notched two quick outs, Ibanez went deep to right for his fifth home run in five days.
Smoak then cranked a 1-1 pitch over the fence in right center, prompting a torrent of boos to be unleashed on Perez by the crowd of 17,574 at Progressive Field. The Mariners, meanwhile, erupted in their dugout as if they’d just won the World Series.
“Oh, man ... that was pretty awesome,” Ryan said. “He hit it off the closer, with two outs. That was pretty awesome. That was a big knock for him and we felt good about our chances after that. Again, momentum was on our side, and it’s too bad.”
Too bad, indeed, as the usually-solid Oliver Perez gave up a leadoff single and then a double to Asdrubal Cabrera to start the bottom of the ninth. Cabrera had tried unsuccessfully to get a bunt down moments earlier.
The Mariners walked the bases loaded intentionally and brought in right-hander Yoervis Medina to face Reynolds. It was all Ryan could do just to make the diving stop on the grounder Reynolds nearly ripped into left field.
“I wasn’t sure what happened,” he said of his throw home. “I still need to get a look at it, but what can you say, really? I did the best I could. That was tough, though, to get those two homers like that in the clutch. You’ve got to feel good if we get out of that inning. We had quite a bit of momentum and who knows?”
For Smoak, the home run was just his second of the season despite a team-best on-base percentage of .374. Much of that OBP has been fueled by Smoak’s team-high 24 walks as he patiently waits for better pitches to hit.
“In the past, I’ve gotten too pull-happy trying to be a homer guy and it’s not good for me as we’ve seen in the past,” Smoak said. “So, I’m trying to have good at-bats and hit the ball where it’s pitched. It’s a long season, and good things are going to happen.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said some good things happened for his team in a game they nearly pulled out of nowhere.
“Our guys did a great job of coming back,” Wedge said. “(Joe) Saunders battled and was tough today. (Danny) Farquhar really did a great job in his first time out. You don’t see that happen very often, hitting a couple of solo shots to tie the ballgame off a closer like that.
“And then, they came back and snatched it from us.”