The Mariners have an opportunity Wednesday to do something they haven’t done in a decade — sweep three consecutive series. They put themselves in that rare position Tuesday night at Safeco Field with a grinding, 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians that featured a wild, 5-4-2-6 ninth-inning double play that sealed the win, Seattle’s season-high eighth in a row.
Aside from that fielding theatric, the game was almost entirely devoid of drama. Seattle fell behind 1-0 in the first and 3-1 in the second, pushed across three runs in what proved to be a decisive third inning, then held on behind Erasmo Ramirez, Yoervis Medina and shaky closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who notched — barely — his 23rd save in 28 chances.
In the ninth, Wilhelmsen immediately allowed a base hit to Mark Reynolds and another to Lonnie Chisenhall, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Yan Gomes hit a grounder to third. Kyle Seager fired to second for a force-out, and second baseman Nick Franklin alertly threw to home. Pinch-runner Drew Stubbs broke so late that he was caught in a rundown and tagged out by shortstop Brad Miller, completing the bizarre double play.
“The idea is if they can turn two, (Stubbs) can’t stay at third,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “So once they threw to second, he’s going. He just probably needed to keep going and we’ll take our chances. You can’t go on contact because you’ll run into an out, but once they start to turn two, you just gotta keep going.”
Wilhelmsen then fanned Michael Bourn for the third out, making a winner out of Ramirez (1-0, 8.71), long departed by then.
The Mariners improved to 48-52, closest they have been to .500 since late May. They have won 13 of the last 18 and are 21-15 over their last 36. This is Seattle’s longest winning streak since an eight-gamer Aug. 14-22, 2012. In the run, Seattle has outscored its opponents 50-24 while improving to 13-5 in July. Seattle last won nine in row in 2003.
This also marked the 45th time in 100 games that a Mariners contest has been decided by two or fewer runs.
The Mariners can broom the Indians Wednesday. If accomplished, it would be Seattle’s third consecutive sweep after recording zero sweeps in their first 30 series of the season. The last time the Mariners posted three consecutive sweeps: May 27-June 5, 2003 at the expense of Kansas City (2 games), Minnesota (4) and Philadelphia (3).
For the first time in 16 consecutive home games, the Mariners did not hit a home run. But they received a 3-for-4 effort out of Kyle Seager and two hits from Kendrys Morales, just enough, coupled with effective pitching, to fend off the Indians, who swept the Mariners in a four-game series in Cleveland in May.
The Indians jumped on Ramirez in the first. With two outs, Jason Kipnis doubled to right and former Mariner farmhand Asdrubal Cabrera knocked him home with a single to center. In the bottom of the inning, Seager answered with a double to right, scoring Franklin, who drew a walk.
Cleveland retaliated with two more in the second on a two-out home run by Gomes. But the Mariners answered with three in the third. Back-to-back doubles by Raul Ibanez and Morales scored one run, Seager scored on a wild pitch, and an RBI-single by catcher Mike Zunino plated Michael Saunders, who had doubled.
The Mariners put runners on first and third with one out in the fifth when Seager singled to right and took third on Justin Smoak’s infield single. But the Mariners failed to capitalize, Saunders and Zunino striking out.
Acting manager Robby Thompson lifted Ramirez after 5.2 innings, the second-year pitcher having allowed three earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts and two walks. Ramirez gave a much better accounting of himself in his second start, lowering his ERA from 13.50 to 8.71.
The series wraps at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday with LHP Joe Saunders (9-8, 4.28) opposite LHP Scott Kazmir (5-4, 4.30). Saunders is 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA in July while Kazmir is 2-0, 1.95 ERA with 28 strikeouts across his last six starts.
The Minnesota Twins arrive Thursday night. The Twins won two of three series at Target Center in late May-early June, including 10-0 June 2 when Minnesota lit up ex-Mariner Jeremy Bonderman.
NOTES: After the game, the Mariners said $8 will be taken off Wednesday’s ticket prices in Main, View and Club sections to salute the streak. Tuesday night they took off $7 per ticket . . . Manager Eric Wedge, taken to a local hospital before Monday night’s game after experiencing dizziness, spent a second day hospitalized Tuesday as doctors continued to take tests. Robby Thompson again took over as skipper . . . To make room for RHP Erasmo Ramirez on the 25-man roster, the Mariners Tuesday optioned reliever Bobby LaFromboise to AAA Tacoma.