CLEVELAND - Brandon League sat and stared into his locker in disbelief.
The Seattle Mariners’ closer lost for the fourth time in five games this week. This time, it cost manager Eric Wedge a potentially sweet win in his homecoming to Cleveland.
Travis Hafner hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning off League (0-4) on Friday night, giving the Indians their latest dramatic win, 5-4 over the Mariners, who lost their sixth straight.
“You’ve got to feel for the guy,” Seattle starter Doug Fister said after pitching eight strong innings and leaving with a 4-2 lead. “It’s just unfortunate.”
League’s three previous losses all came in extra innings, Sunday at home to the Chicago White Sox, then Tuesday and Thursday in Baltimore.
“It’s been a tough stretch,” Wedge said. “League was one pitch from finishing it off. You have to handle it and be strong — but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”
Hafner belted an 0-1 pitch over the center-field fence for his first homer since April 17, sending a crowd of 33,774 into a frenzy.
Tony Sipp (2-0) pitched a perfect 1 1-3 innings for the win — Cleveland’s ninth in its last at-bat. The Indians’ 15-4 home record is the best in baseball and their last five wins at Progressive Field have come on their final swing.
After Hafner was mobbed near home plate by his teammates, he leaped into second baseman Orlando Cabrera’s arms and the crowd sang “Cleveland Rocks” as fireworks exploded overhead.
Meanwhile the Mariners’ trudged to their dugout after yet another punch-in-the-gut loss. They have lost three of their last four on walkoff hits.
Michael Brantley opened the Indians ninth with a double into the gap in left-center, and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with an RBI double over the head of rookie left fielder Carlos Peguero, who seemed to freeze on the liner right at him.
“The first one was a little bit tough and the second jumped off the bat and was flying,” Peguero said. “It was a very bad moment.”
Shin-Soo Choo’s groundout moved Cabrera to third, and he stayed there when Carlos Santana grounded out to second.
Up came Hafner, who had struck out looking in his previous at-bat in the seventh. He looked at a fastball for strike one before driving League’s second pitch over the wall.
“I tried to get another ground ball,” League said after gathering his thoughts. “I thought it was a good pitch, a two-seamer low, but he got under it.”
“I’m trying to stay positive.”
Choo and Brantley also homered for the Indians, now a stunning 24-13 and believing they can stay in contention all season.
Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer for Seattle and Peguero hit his first major league homer, a 422-foot solo shot.
Although he did not admit it, the stoic-and-steady Wedge was probably stung by the loss.
He managed the Indians for seven seasons, guiding them through a tough rebuilding period and leading them to the AL Central title in 2007, when they missed the World Series by one win. Yet he was never embraced by Cleveland fans and fired after losing 97 games in 2009.
Fister was supposedly a break for the Indians, who have been facing some of the AL’s top pitchers recently. In 12 games leading into the series opener, Cleveland had gone against seven pitchers ranked in the top 20 in ERA in the league.
Fister looked as if he belonged there.
“He was outstanding,” Wedge said.
Other than giving up the homers, Fister was in command. He retired the side in order in four innings, and he faced only three batters in the second, when the Mariners turned a double play.
Down 2-1, the Mariners scored three in the seventh, highlighted by Smoak’s homer.
The Mariners didn’t hit anything hard for four-plus innings against Fausto Carmona, who didn’t allow a hit for the first 4 2-3 innings.
Peguero changed that in a hurry.
The free-swinging 24-year-old Dominican, whom the Mariners believe can one day be a slugger, drove Carmona’s first pitch deep into the seats in right. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder showed good pop — when he made contact — in the minors, hitting 54 homers the past two seasons. However, he was strikeout prone, fanning 350 times the past two years.
“He’s a fine looking young player who will make some mistakes and come back from them,” said Wedge.
Choo gave Cleveland a 1-0 lead in the first with his fifth homer. Brantley’s homer made it 2-0 in the third.
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