CLEVELAND -- As Tyler Naquin was called on off the bench to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and runners on first and second and the game tied, the scoreboard in left field flashed the highlight of his walk-off inside-the-park home run in August 2016. Just minutes later, he added another walk-off moment to his resume.
Naquin served the first pitch he saw from Anthony Swarzak into right field to easily score Leonys Martin from second, handing the Indians a 2-1 victory over the Mariners on Friday evening at Progressive Field. It was Naquin’s third career walk-off hit and the Tribe's first pinch-hit walk-off plate appearance since Brandon Guyer did so on Sept. 20, 2016.
“It feels good, man. I mean it feels really good,” Naquin said. “…It’s a good feeling, especially with the performance that Shane [Bieber] had and our guys coming in and doing their thing in order to go home with the win and put me in that opportunity.”
Naquin said he started to prepare for a pinch-hit situation around the fourth or fifth inning by getting some swings in and keeping his body moving. And on a brisk, damp, 47-degree night he stood in the on-deck circle as the Mariners used a mound visit right before the final at-bat.
“My main thing is I’m locked in on seeing if they’re bringing in [Roenis] Elias, the lefty,” Naquin said. “I faced him in Seattle and actually had like a 10-pitch at-bat versus him [on April 16]. I’m playing that at-bat, kind of how he attacked me and just preparing for the moment even more. Like I said, I’ve been preparing since the fifth. I don’t know who I’m gonna face or what the moment may be, but just playing all scenarios and being ready for any of it.”
Despite coming off the bench, Naquin believes in being aggressive as a pinch-hitter, attacking the first-pitch slider and serving it into right field to boost his pinch-hit average to .600 on the year (3-for-5). As he rounded first base, he turned toward home plate, watching Martin score the winning run before his team headed in his direction. Martin leaped into Naquin's arms as his other teammates threw cups of water on him in celebration.
“It’s surreal,” Naquin said. “It’s crazy, especially whenever [Francisco Lindor’s] throwing jabs at the body. It’s more like a boxing match with him whenever that happens. But it’s nice seeing guys greet you like that, [Martin] and Kip [Jason Kipnis] running up in my face and jumping. So, it’s a lot of fun.”
Bieber continues to earn Tito’s trust
The ninth-inning heroics backed up a stellar performance by Indians starter Bieber. With both Corey Kluber (right ulna fracture) and Mike Clevinger (upper back strain) on the injured list, Bieber has become the team’s No. 3 starter. On Friday he proved that he’s ready to handle the added pressure. The 23-year-old pitched a career-high 7 2/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits with eight strikeouts and set another career high with 114 pitches.
“I thought he was terrific,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “For us to let him go that far speaks volumes of the trust he's earning.”
After giving up three hits in the fifth inning, Bieber locked in and went on to retire the final nine batters he faced. After throwing 105 pitches -- one shy of his previous season high -- on the night through seven frames, he was sent back out to the mound for two more outs before getting pulled when Daniel Vogelbach came up to the plate.
“I just thought he got to maybe 114 [pitches], facing Vogelbach, that's a lot to ask,” Francona said. “You've got a guy with really good power, if he makes a mistake, I'd hate for him to lose a game like that.”
“I think our staff is one that wants to go as deep as possible in every single game,” Bieber said. “We’re extremely competitive from that aspect and it’s really nice to have that vote of confidence from your manager and be able to go out there and be able to execute pitches that late in a game.”
The turning point
Although Bieber had another career night, he credits his opportunity to work into the eighth inning to outfielder Jordan Luplow. Tim Beckham began the Mariners’ three-hit fifth inning with a guaranteed double off the center field fence, but decided to try to stretch it to a triple. As Leonys Martin crashed into the wall, Luplow raced over from right field, grabbed the ball and hit Lindor, who made the perfect relay throw to third to nail Beckham.
“That was a huge throw, especially to start the inning,” Bieber said. “A leadoff triple would change the game and who knows what happens after that? Really, the gravity of that throw and that play was huge, to be able to allow those hits right there. I didn’t feel like anything was different. If anything, it allowed me to go out there and attack more.”
“If [Luplow] doesn't go right away, we have no chance,” Francona said. “Those are the things we were talking about doing, just playing the game right. Because you never know what's going to be too much or not enough. Don't leave anything out on the field.”