CLEVELAND, OH — This time the excitement and jubilation came down to the best bunt never hit.
To overcoming the failing of not one but three of the Indians’ standout relievers.
To bumbling errors by the Seattle Mariners.
And to a home run by a backup catcher in the bottom of the 10th that sent the bench racing to the plate to welcome a hitter for the second time in four days.
Go ahead and try to figure what’s happening with these Cleveland Indians, though perhaps it’s best not to try.
Perhaps it’s best to simply join the ride, because it’s been a wild and crazy one to start the season. Wild and crazy enough to give signs that something special could be building — though if anyone did say that too loud, manager Terry Francona might glare at them, because he just wants to focus on winning.
Still, even Francona admitted that Monday’s 10-8 win over Seattle was about as weird as they come, with four lead changes in the final four innings.
The game-winning hit came from Yan Gomes, whose three-run home run with no outs provided the margin in the 10-8 win.
Unlike Jason Kipnis, who savored the trot last Friday when he beat Seattle on a 10th-inning homer, Gomes sprinted around the bag like he was late for dinner.
“Moments like that,” he said, “you just want to get back to your teammates. Just run around and make sure you don’t miss a base.”
The Mariners walked off slowly after watching the Indians sweep a four-game series and win three times on their last at-bat.
With these Indians, one game it’s Kipnis. The next it’s Mark Reynolds scoring the game-winner on an infield ground ball. The next it’s Justin Masterson’s pitching. Another day it’s Gomes, or Mike Aviles beating a throw home on an infield single, or Michael Brantley tying a game in Detroit, or the Indians’ speed making the Mariners look like stumblebums in key innings.
“It’s a good feeling,” Francona said. “Once you do it a few times I think it breeds confidence. Whether it’s picking each other up . . . it’s getting contagious, and that’s good.”
Because crazy doesn’t even begin to describe Monday’s game.
The Indians bullpen trio of Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Chris Perez all gave up solo home runs. The one off Pestano tied it in the eighth, the one off Perez put the Mariners up one in the ninth and the one off Smith put the Mariners ahead again in the 10th.
But the Indians would have none of it.
They scratched out a run in the ninth against Tom Wilhelmsen, who hadn’t blown a save in 11 chances this season and started the ninth with a 0.50 ERA.
But with one out and runners on first and third, Carlos Santana hit a hard grounder to first that Justin Smoak dove to catch. He tossed it to first, where Wilhelmsen had a routine play to secure the last out.
Except Wilhelmsen dropped the ball.
“I just took my eyes off the ball,” Wilhelmsen said. “Smoakie made a great play. He threw a perfect ball right to me. I simply took my eyes off it.”
That sent the game to extra innings, where Smith gave up a home run in the top of the 10th.
But the Indians led off the 10th with a single by Michael Brantley, and when Drew Stubbs put down a sacrifice bunt, pitcher Charlie Furbush bobbled it, then threw to first, where Smoak dropped the ball for another Seattle miscue.
Francona asked Gomes to bunt. He tried, but backup catchers don’t often bunt and it showed.
“That ball came in looking like it was 100 miles per hour, I’m not gonna lie,” Gomes said.
Gomes missed a bunt attempt on a 1-0 count, then took a ball. At some point, Francona took the bunt off but Gomes missed the sign and kept trying. Finally, word got to him, and he worked the count to 3-and-2.
He looked fastball.
“He throws a slider for a strike, then I tip my hat,” Gomes said. “He’s got to get to me. He doesn’t want the bases loaded with no outs.”
Furbush threw a fastball, and Gomes — who had hit one well onto the home run porch earlier — hit this one into the bleachers.
“Yeah, I knew it (was out),” Gomes said. “”If it didn’t go out, man, I got to keep working out or something. I felt like I hit it pretty good.”
“That’s the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” Perez said.
“We’re glad to leave Cleveland,” Wilhelmsen said.
Go down the numbers for the Indians:
• Winners of five-of-five, eight-of-10, 12-of-15, 18-of-22 and 21-of-28.
• Swept Oakland and Seattle in four-game series.
• Won six and tied four of the last 10 series they’ve played.
• In first place in the AL Central, 2 1/2 games up on the Tigers.
The Indians have faced eight Cy Young winner and beat seven. They’re 21-7 since starting 5-10. They’re running the bases, juggling lineups, getting solid pitching and winning games.
Either it’s crazy, or they really are good and they have a something-something going on.
After all these wins, after these 10th-inning home runs, the five walkoff wins, the seven wins in the last at-bat, with the calm leadership of a World Series winning manager . . . well . . . it’s tough to argue against them.