Indians finding magic in the 9th inning
The Indians' improbable season hatched another dramatic finish Friday night as Travis Hafner slammed a two-out, two-run home run to cap a three-run bottom of the ninth inning and lift the Indians to a 5-4 win over Seattle.
The homer ended a drought for Hafner, who has been hitting for average this season, but not with a lot of power. His home run Friday night was his fifth of the season, but his first since April 17.
During his prime years -- from 2004 to 2007 -- Hafner could be counted on to hit not just for a high average, but for power. He hit over .300 in three of those four years and averaged 32 home runs per season.
However, in the last three seasons, during which he has been plagued by nagging weakness in his right shoulder, Hafner has hit for neither power nor average. This season, he has begun to hit for a high average again, but the home runs still aren't coming with the regularity they did during his prime.
Hafner was 2-for-4 on Friday, raising his batting average to .340, which ranks in the top 10 in the American League. He also ranks among the league leaders with a .403 on base percentage.
The last piece of the puzzle for Hafner is to regain his power stroke, which has been missing for the last three years, and the first six weeks of this season. Perhaps his walk-off home run Friday night will lead to the eventual return of his power, which the Indians could use in the middle of their lineup.
--DH Travis Hafner's two-out, two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Indians a 5-4 win over Seattle, was the Indians' ninth win of the season in their last at bat. It was Hafner's fifth home run of the season, but his first since April 17.
--LHP Tony Sipp pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to get the win Friday night. Sipp has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances, which covers 8 2/3 innings, during which he has given up four hits, with seven strikeouts.
--OF Grady Sizemore sat out his third consecutive game Friday night with a bruised right knee. Sizemore injured the knee sliding into second base in Tuesday's game. The Indians continue to say his status is day-to-day.
--OF Michael Brantley was 2-for-4 Friday night, including a home run and a double while replacing injured OF Grady Sizemore in the leadoff spot of the order Friday night. In the last three games hitting leadoff in place of Sizemore, Brantley is 4-for-12.
--OF Austin Kearns had a rare hit at home when he reached on an infield single in the third inning Friday night. That was only Kearns's second hit at Progressive Field this season. He came into the game hitting .043 (1-for-23) at home.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Number of games won by the Indians this season in their last at bat.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was pretty relieved to see it go out of the park." -- DH Travis Hafner, on his two-run, two-out walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave the Indians a 5-4 win over Seattle Friday night.
--OF Grady Sizemore was not in the lineup from May 11-13 after sustaining a right knee injury on May 10. An MRI exam came back negative and he was listed as day-to-day because of what was called a right knee contusion.
--RHP Carlos Carrasco (right elbow tightness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 25. He made a rehab start for Class AA Akron on May 6, and he is expected to be activated May 11 to start that day against Tampa Bay. As expected, he came off the disabled list and started against the Rays on May 11.
--RHP Mitch Talbot (strained right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 12. He threw a bullpen session May 3, and he pitched in extended spring training May 9. He is expected to face minor-leaguers at least twice more before returning to the Indians. Talbot was scheduled to make a rehab start for Class AAA Columbus on May 14 and manager Manny Acta said he would make one more before returning.
--INF Jared Goedert (strained abdominal muscle) went on the 60-day disabled list March 30. He began a rehab assignment with Class AA Akron on May 10.
--OF Trevor Crowe (right shoulder surgery in March 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 30. He will be out until at least late July.
Just when it appears the Mariners' offense cannot continue to sink, it does.
Seattle just finished being swept by Baltimore, and it lost 5-4 at Cleveland on Friday to run its losing streak to six games. During the putrid stretch, the Mariners have scored 15 runs.
Last season's record-setting ineptitude at the plate is being challenged again this year. The Mariners' second-leading home run hitter, Ryan Langherans, was outrighted to the minors earlier in the week. Six of the nine players in the Mariners' starting lineup Friday came in hitting .227 or less.
The team's inability to hit was exemplified by Friday's cleanup hitter, Jack Cust, who is hitting .222. He has zero home runs in 117 at-bats.
Cust came into Friday a career .462 hitter against Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona, and he went 2-for-4 night against the right-hander. He struck out in his first at-bat, grounded out, doubled and singled into space left open by a shift.
Things have become so difficult for Cust that a Seattle-based sports talk radio station has begun a pool for listeners challenging them to pick the date when Cust will hit a homer. The winner receives a $50 gift certificate.
Youngsters Justin Smoak and Carlos Peguero showed some pop Friday, each hitting a home run. But the Mariners are saddled with a roster that has veterans like Chone Figgins (.221) and young players like Michael Saunders (.171) wilting at the plate.
--RHP Brandon League has taken four consecutive losses in four appearances. After entering Friday's game with the Mariners leading the Indians 4-2, he allowed back-to-back doubles before giving up a walk-off, two-run home run to Travis Hafner. The problem for the Mariners is their other closer options are limited, so they have to ride with League.
--RHP David Aardsma, who sprained a ligament in his right elbow last week, will rehabilitate for a month, then begin a new throwing program. He will not need surgery, though it's unlikely he will be back prior to the All-Star break.
--RHP Jeff Gray, designated for assignment by the White Sox on Wednesday, was claimed off waivers by the Mariners. He figures to join Seattle's bullpen for Saturday's game at Cleveland. Gray, 29, had no decisions and a 2.70 ERA in six appearances for the White Sox this season. In four big-league seasons with the A's, Cubs and White Sox, Gray has a combined 1-1 record with a 4.36 ERA in 42 appearances.
--LF Carlos Peguero hit his first major league home run Friday night, smashing a fastball from Cleveland RHP Fausto Carmona to right-center. Peguero is in his second stint with the big club this year, and the homer was just his third hit and first extra-base hit in 20 at-bats.
--RHP Doug Fister entered Friday's game having allowed only one home run in 42 1/3 innings. He gave up two in the first three innings to the Indians, one to Shin-Soo Choo and one to Michael Brantley. Fortunately for Fister, both were solo shots, and he tossed eight innings of two-run ball. He failed to get the win when RHP Brandon League yielded three runs in the ninth.
--1B Justin Smoak continues his adjustment to becoming the Mariners' offensive centerpiece. He hit a two-run home run to provide the lead Friday night. Smoak, 24, easily leads the team in home runs (six) and RBI (24).
--Manager Eric Wedge wasn't the only member of the Mariners making a notable return to Cleveland. Seattle hitting coach Chris Chambliss was named American League Rookie of the Year 40 years ago during his debut season with the Indians. Chambliss hit .275 with nine home runs and 48 RBI back in 1971.
BY THE NUMBERS: 73.7 percent -- Rate of first-pitch strikes thrown by Mariners rookie RHP Michael Pineda. That leads the big leagues.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You got to be strong on the bad days and be humble on the good days." -- Manager Eric Wedge, on the team's recent late losses.
--CF Franklin Gutierrez (irritable bowel syndrome) had been out since mid-March, and he went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Tacoma on May 2 but was held out of games May 7 and May 8 because of flu-like symptoms. He returned to action May 11, and he could be activated in mid-May.
--RHP David Aardsma (left hip surgery in January 2011) had a torn labrum repaired, and the damage was more extensive than expected. He went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. Aardsma began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Tacoma on April 19, and he made five rehab appearances through April 29. In that last outing, he sprained a ligament in his right elbow. He was shut down until at least mid-June, after which he will starting a new throwing program.
--RHP Shawn Kelley (Tommy John surgery in September 2010) went on the 60-day disabled list March 30. He threw his first simulated game May 4, but cut a simulated game short May 8. He is scheduled to pitch another simulated game May 13.
--LHP Nate Robertson (minor left elbow surgery in March 2011) has yet to pitch in the majors or minors this season. He is not on the disabled list because he was in camp as a non-roster player. --LHP Mauricio Robles (left elbow surgery in March 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 30. The timetable for his return was unknown.
--C Adam Moore (torn meniscus in right knee) went on the 60-day disabled list retroactive to April 7. He had surgery April 12, and he is likely out for the season.