CLEVELAND -- It was an ending no one saw coming except for Indians manager Terry Francona.
“I actually called down to the bullpen in the first and I told [bullpen coach] Brian [Sweeney], ‘Put on your seatbelts. Tell them guys to put on their seatbelts. We’re gonna figure it out.’”
After being held scoreless through the first seven frames, a two-out RBI pinch-hit single from Bradley and a two-run double from Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning on Saturday set up an uncharacteristic walk-off error to hand the Indians a 5-4 extra-inning victory over the Mariners at Progressive Field. It marked the first time Cleveland won on a walk-off error since Aug. 21, 2017, against the Red Sox.
“Sometimes days like this turn out to be even better,” Francona said, “just because we used everybody, everybody feels a part of it and we got contributions late from guys who weren’t even in the lineup, from René. It ends up being a really good day.”
It wasn’t the ideal setup. The Indians began a stretch in which they’ll play 30 games in 31 days on Friday, and the No. 1 thing they wanted to avoid was overtaxing their bullpen. But after Triston McKenzie was recalled earlier in the morning, he lasted just two-thirds of an inning after allowing a run on four walks. The 23-year-old said the moment overwhelmed him, leaving 9 1/3 frames to be covered by the bullpen.
“Everybody came in and did their job,” Francona said. “Man, I tell you what, we’re just trying to get through the game without ruining our bullpen, but because [Seattle] never stretched it out, it kind of gave us that chance. Every once in a while, if you keep playing, you get fortunate enough to win a game like that.”
Francona has said time and time again that he knows his offense hasn’t been the most consistent. But what he admires and appreciates is the fact that during the struggles the bats have gone through, the lineup has refused to quit. That’s exactly what it demonstrated once again against Seattle.
Following two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth, Bradley Zimmer and Josh Naylor drew back-to-back walks, prompting Francona to turn to the hot-hitting Bradley to pinch-hit for first baseman Owen Miller, and he delivered a broken-bat single to cut his team’s deficit to two and keep the inning alive.
“[Bradley] was ready to hit for about two hours,” Francona said. “He kept walking by me. I was happy for him. You saw the elation on his face. … He found a way to get a hit and we got to keep playing.”
Then, the Indians’ fate was in Rivera’s hands. And he had an advantage up his sleeve.
“I know [reliever Rafael] Montero from the past,” Rivera said. “We were teammates in the New York Mets [organization], so I know what he was trying to do. I just went out there with my plan. I planned to hit the ball somewhere that nobody’s at. It came big.”
Rivera’s long fly ball to left field hit off the base of the wall (with an expected batting average of just .210), clearing the bases and knotting the score at 4.
“Honestly, I just hit the ball, I started running,” Rivera said. “I know if I hit the wall a couple runs are going to score and we tie the game. If it goes out, it’s going to be a walk-off.”
Although it only tied the game, it gave the Indians a chance to see James Karinchak do his Hulk-like flex on the mound after navigating around the automatic runner to walk away with a scoreless frame. That set up Amed Rosario to be the hero in the bottom of the 10th, as he laced a single into center and immediately threw his hand above his head, expecting Cesar Hernandez to score from second. But Hernandez paused after contact and was held at third base.
Instead, the Indians found a more unconventional way to walk away victorious. After an intentional walk of José Ramírez, Harold Ramirez hit a soft ground ball back to the mound that looked like a tailor-made 1-2-3 double play. Instead, Mariners reliever Paul Sewald’s throw was well off the mark, allowing Hernandez to dive in safely.
“We are resilient, man, we battled out there,” Rivera said. “Every day isn’t going to be cute, but we go out there and we battle pitch by pitch and inning by inning, and hopefully at the end of the day we come up with a W.”