Josh Tomlin matched Felix Hernandez inning for inning tonight. No, really.
That was unexpected.
I guess in some ways this was the type of situation that Josh Tomlin would thrive in. Safeco Field is a pitching-friendly park, especially to a flyball pitcher. The Mariners are a bad offensive team in just about every meaningful category. And it was a cool night, which I guess favors the pitcher.
But you certainly wouldn't expect this type of performance from Josh, especially given what he did in spring training and his first appearances in the regular season. We last saw him in Kansas City having to come in out of the bullpen after Jeanmar Gomez was ejected. He was awful, and the Indians just about blew the game because he was awful. Tonight? Totally different circumstance, and totally different outcome. Tonight he was back in the rotation, and had his control, pitching out of a couple jams, but otherwise cruising through the game. The Indians needed innings after short outings the first two games of the series, and they got eight innings from Tomlin, something you don't normally get from him. Usually he's good, but loses it the third time through the order. Tonight it didn't seem to matter that Seattle hitters saw him three or even four times. For Seattle, getting owned by Tomlin in that fashion must be like punching yourself in the face. Or getting bit by a cobra.
But Felix Hernandez just about made Tomlin's performance only a moral victory instead of an actual one. He struck out 12 in eight innings, though he had to work to get through eight. The Indians actually had a chance to pin the loss on him in the eighth, but couldn't get the tying or winning runs across, as both Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo struck out with the bases loaded in the eighth. Hernandez threw 125 or so pitches on the night, but even with the Indians threatening, Seattle manager Eric Wedge stuck with him, knowing that a fresh reliever wasn't going to be as nearly effective as a tired Hernandez. He was right, though not exactly in the way he anticipated.
After Tomlin cruised through the eighth inning, closer Brandon League came in to attempt to close the game. The Indians beat him twice last year, both on walk-off homers. There wasn't going to be any walk-offs tonight, but they did end beating him in their last at-bat. Carlos Santana worked a walk, then Travis Hafner lined a single in front of Ichiro in right field. Next up was Casey Kotchman, and Manny Acta had a decision to make. Kotchman is a classic double play candidate, a slow contact hitter, so instead of having him hit away, he him sacrifice the runners over. Casey put a good bunt down, and like in the eighth, the Indians brought the tying run to third with just one out. Shelley Duncan was up, and he put together an excellent at-bat, eventually walking to load the bases. That left things up to Jack Hannahan, and he came through, shooting a single past third baseman Kyle Seager, plating both Santana and pinch-runner Aaron Cunningham. Hannahan moved up to second thanks to Chone Figgins' awful throw, but that wouldn't lead to any more runs, as the Indians wouldn't be able to add on.
Chris Perez closed the game in short order, and just like that, the Indians won a game in which Felix Hernandez. I think this one makes up for the Opening Day debacle.