CLEVELAND — One inning into this disaster, it was apparent the Mariners didn’t have much of a chance.
They’d already been owned by Cleveland Indians ace Justin Masterson in the top half of the frame, then spent the bottom part forgetting the basics in the field en route to two quick runs by the home side. By the time the 6-0 defeat was in the books, Felix Hernandez and the Mariners were eager to forget everything else about a Sunday afternoon in which they were never really in it.
“It was a weird game,” Hernandez said.
It turned bizarre in the fourth inning when catcher Jesus Montero made a nice play on a swinging bunt by speedy Drew Stubbs out in front of the plate with Mike Aviles on second. Montero threw Stubbs out by a half-step, but the play left him a good 15 feet from the plate.
Aviles, who had moved up to third, saw that Hernandez hadn’t gone home to back Montero up. So, he took off and wound up scoring before Montero could get back in time to take a throw.
That was the final run for either team in front of 19,744 fans at Progressive Field on a day Masterson held the Mariners to just three hits over seven innings and struck out 11. Masterson has held opponents scoreless in 19 consecutive innings, the second time this season he has done that.
The way Masterson was pitching, the game was over long before the botched coverage that allowed Aviles to score in the fourth. With none on and two out in the second inning, Michael Bourn legged out an infield hit, Jason Kipnis lined a single to center and then Michael Brantley crushed a Hernandez sinker that didn’t sink over the center-field wall for a 5-0 lead.
“I felt good,” Hernandez said. “I just missed a couple of pitches and missed my location. It’s tough.”
On the swinging bunt play, Hernandez said he knew there’s no way he would have thrown Stubbs out at first had he taken the ball. As for what should have happened with the coverage of the plate, he shrugged his shoulders.
“Like I said, it was a weird game,” he said. “It was a good play (by Aviles) and that’s baseball.”
The Indians seemed the more heads-up squad from the outset. Free-agent signing Bourn has ignited the Indians’ attack from the top of the order this season and showed how in the first inning when he lined what should have been just a single to right-center.
But when right fielder Michael Morse was slow getting to the ball, Bourn turned on the jets and cruised into second with a double. Bourn then scored easily on a single to right by Brantley.
When Morse made an ill-advised throw home that was high, Brantley moved up to second. That proved important moments later when first baseman Justin Smoak whiffed on a Nick Swisher grounder, allowing Brantley to score the second Cleveland run of the inning.
The Mariners lost for the fifth straight time at this ballpark.
“You’re going to have games like that where a couple of fluke things happen or you make some mistakes, and that’s what happened to us,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It was one of those days. One of those days for Felix, one of those days for us.”
The Mariners haven’t had many like this since losing five of six games on a trip to Texas last month. They had been 5-0-1 in series since that time until dropping their third straight game here, with one more remaining Monday.
A key to that success had been the 1-2 punch of Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of the rotation. Hernandez had been 4-1 with a 1.29 earned-run average in six road starts, but by the fifth inning of this one he had pitching coach Carl Willis imploring him during a mound visit to simply survive the frame and spare the bullpen added work.
Hernandez did that, striking out the side and stranding runners at second and third. But his pitch count was at 107 and he was done.
Masterson had no such trouble; his only real difficulty came when the Mariners, down 5-0, put the first two batters on in the fifth. But Masterson struck out Brendan Ryan and Michael Saunders, then got Dustin Ackley to ground out to third.
“He was throwing a lot of strikes and getting ahead early,” said Kyle Seager, who had one of his team’s three singles off Masterson.
“With a good sinker and a good slider, when you get behind a guy like him, it gets pretty tough.”