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Friday, April 20, 2012 - Page updated at 11:00 p.m.
Not Felix's fault: Mariners can't hold lead, lose 2-1
By Bob Condotta
Seattle Times staff reporter
Felix Hernandez was again up to speed and more than up to the task.
Brandon League, though, uncharacteristically wasn't. And his first blown save of the season cost the Mariners in an especially disheartening 2-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians Thursday night.
"I just didn't get it done," said League, who hadn't allowed a run in seven previous innings this year and had converted 33 of 35 save opportunities since last May 13 before allowing two runs on two hits and two walks in the ninth inning.
Cleveland's comeback wasted eight electric innings by Hernandez, who struck out 12 and allowed just five hits, throwing 126 pitches.
His last pitch was as good as any he tossed all night, a changeup that struck out Shin-Soo Choo to end the eighth inning with the bases loaded after he had also struck out the previous batter, Michael Brantley.
As the crowd of 12,942 roared, Hernandez leapt off the mound and pounded his glove in a show of emotion more befitting October.
"Felix was incredible," said manager Eric Wedge. "He really stepped it up that last inning for us, obviously."
The only flaw was some wildness early that caused Hernandez to throw a few more pitches than he might have liked. Hernandez hadn't thrown more than 107 in his three earlier starts, and he said the 126 Thursday night was "too much." He said he had no issue coming out then, saying "no man, eight (innings) was good."
Much had been made of Hernandez's velocity on his fastball in earlier starts this year. It had hovered around 91 mph.
But he was up to a more King-like 93 Thursday, and said he used that pitch to set up his out pitch, the changeup.
"I still got something," he said with a smile when asked about the little extra giddyup on his fastball against the Indians.
Hernandez said he momentarily lost his voice in the excitement of the eighth. As he stayed in the dugout for the ninth, he said he fully expected to see League put it away.
But League walked leadoff batter Carlos Santana, then gave up a hard-hit single to right on a 1-2 pitch to Travis Hafner.
After Casey Kotchman bunted the runners to second and third, League walked Shelley Duncan to load the bases. Jack Hannahan then lined a single to left just past a diving Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager. Santana scored easily to tie the game and pinch-runner Aaron Cunningham never hesitated coming around third and beat a wild throw from Chone Figgins in left.
"I couldn't execute my pitches, especially when I had two strikes on Hafner," League said. "I couldn't put him away. The split was a little too up and he got a base hit out of it. Bases loaded, I got my ground ball but obviously it didn't go my way. But the walks definitely killed me. I thought I threw some pitches that could have gone either way. But that's not how you are supposed to live by."
Said Hernandez: "Brandon is one of the best closers right now. He's going to be back and close more games for us."
And the real culprit might have been an offense that managed just five hits off Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin, who struck out seven in eight innings.
"You never really saw the same pitch twice," Seager said of Tomlin. "He hit his spots and he kept it down."
Seattle had a runner on third and one out in each of the second and fourth innings but couldn't score. The Mariners' only run came in the fifth after Michael Saunders doubled, advanced on a Miguel Olivo bunt and scored when John Jaso hit it hard to second and Jason Kipnis threw wild to home.
But Seattle had only one base runner the rest of the game.
"We left a couple of runs out there," Wedge said. "We'll get better with that as they gain more experience in those situations."
The loss dropped the Mariners to 7-7. It was their second blown lead in three nights against the Indians. Tuesday, Seattle wasted an early 8-1 advantage, falling 9-8.
Thursday night's game seemed destined to go the way of the Mariners when Hernandez escaped the bases-loaded one-out jam in the eighth. He allowed only one hit through the first six innings, and only two through seven. But a line drive by Hanahan and then infield hits by Jason Donald and Michael Brantley loaded the bases with one.
After the hit by Donald, Wedge visited the mound to talk to Hernandez.
"I just told him, 'Go get them. This is your ballgame,' " Wedge said.
For eight innings, it was.
• The first 20,000 fans at Friday's game against the White Sox get an Ichiro bobblehead.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.
Nobody's perfect Mariners closer Brandon League had been flawless this season, until Thursday night. Dates IP ER SO Saves Before Thursday 7.0 0 4 5-5 Thursday 0.2 2 1 0-1
Following Felix Felix Hernandez's only win this season also came in his worst start. Date Opponent Result IP H R ER HR BB SO Dec. ERA April 19 vs. Cleveland L, 2-1 8 5 0 0 0 1 12 — 2.76 April 13 vs. Oakland L, 4-0 7.0 7 2 2 0 3 6 Loss 3.80 April 7 @ Oakland W, 8-7 6.1 8 6 6 1 1 7 Win 4.40 March 28 @ Oakland* W, 3-1 8.0 5 1 1 0 0 6 — 1.13 *Played in Tokyo
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