Another strong effort by Felix Hernandez wasted in 9-1 Mariners loss to Cleveland
Travis Hafner's grand slam after a two-out error by Mariners second baseman Chone Figgins powered the Indians to a victory.
Seattle Times staff reporter; Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle @ Baltimore, 4:05 p.m., FSN
CLEVELAND — A visibly peeved Felix Hernandez sat by his locker for several minutes after this loss, rattling off a series of words in Spanish to Mariners teammates Jose Lopez and Franklin Gutierrez.
Hernandez said later he was most upset at himself for the gopher-ball sinker he threw Travis Hafner in the seventh inning, which was golfed over the center-field wall for a grand slam. The blast keyed a seven-run seventh by the Cleveland Indians that sent Hernandez and his team reeling toward a 9-1 loss in Sunday's series finale.
For Hernandez, frustration has to be mounting in a season that's seen him post a 2.62 earned-run average while compiling just an 8-10 record. Any mistake, it seems, costs him the game. This time, the gaffe came well before the slam, when second baseman Chone Figgins bobbled a two-out grounder to keep the inning alive.
"Errors are a part of the game," Hernandez said in what's become an almost automatic response to setbacks that derail his games. "They're a part of baseball. I was like, 'Just make good pitches.' "
Hernandez had been doing that all day, silencing the crowd of 14,888 at Progressive Field as he engaged in a scoreless duel with mound counterpart Justin Masterson. He'd shown no-hit stuff through four innings, a two-hitter through six and was nearly through a perfect seventh until the Figgins error with nobody on.
Figgins recovered after bobbling the grounder by Luis Valbuena and threw high to the bag. Valbuena beat the throw, in any event, and the umpire ruled first baseman Casey Kotchman took his foot off the bag stretching for the throw.
Two singles, a double, an intentional walk, the slam and 21 pitches later, Hernandez was trudging to the showers down 6-0 and wearing the look of a guy who didn't know what hit him.
"Two outs in the seventh, we made a mistake and they made us pay for it," Mariners manager Daren Brown said.
Hernandez insisted he kept his focus after the error. But things came apart so quickly he barely knew what happened.
"It was weird, huh?" Hernandez said. "I mean, I felt good today. I felt strong, I was making good pitches. But in that inning, my fastball stayed a little bit up."
Sean White yielded a solo homer to Jayson Nix right after replacing Hernandez following the slam. Seattle scored on an infield single by Gutierrez in the eighth. A two-run blast by Cleveland's Michael Brantley off reliever Chris Seddon in the bottom of the inning closed out the scoring.
Hernandez has been every bit as good this season, if not better, than during his runner-up bid for the Cy Young Award last year. He's just about caught up to Cliff Lee in ERA, at 2.62 to the Texas left-hander's 2.58 — none of Cleveland's six runs on Sunday were charged to Hernandez — and trails league leaders Clayton Bucholtz of Boston and Trevor Cahill of Oakland by fewer than 0.15.
In all the other categories of importance, Hernandez is right there, leading the league in innings pitched, and sitting second in strikeouts and complete games. But try as he does, he just can't seem to string a bunch of wins together playing for a last-place team that keeps finding ways to lose.
Figgins made no excuses for the grounder, hit slightly to his right.
"I should have made the play, man," Figgins said. "It took a hop on me, but I should have made the play."
But one non-play should not end the game.
Trouble is, once the Indians got on the scoreboard with a Brantley single, you could almost sense Hernandez had no shot at a win.
His team twice had two on with no out again Masterson, who walked six and threw more balls than strikes over his six innings. But the Mariners failed to score both times, including a fifth-inning try with the bases loaded and one out.
First, Ichiro ripped a ball down the first-base line that looked to be at least a two-run double. But first baseman Matt LaPorta made a fully-extended diving snag for the inning's second out.
Moments later, Figgins tried to bunt for an RBI single. But LaPorta grabbed the ball, then desperately reached out and — the umpired ruled — made the tag. Figgins argued vehemently and said after that he never felt the tag.
But the inning was done. Then, in the seventh, the Mariners were done as well.
Hernandez said he'll put this one behind him.
"I always do," he said.
But doing it has to be getting harder and harder. Because Hernandez is about the only thing still worth watching on this team and even that is getting dragged down by the flaws that long ago ended this season.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.