April 24, 2014

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Tribe wins sixth straight on Lofton’s walk-off walk

CLEVELAND — It’s the kind of walk-off you expect from Kenny Lofton.
Lofton did not clout a dramatic home run to lift the Indians to another victory Thursday night, but his contribution was just as important, as the veteran outfielder drew a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning to give Cleveland a 6-5 win over Seattle.
With the Indians down to their final out after watching the Mariners tie the game in the top of the inning off closer Joe Borowski, Lofton worked a walk off former Cleveland reliever Rick White to force pinch runner Josh Barfield to the plate with the winning run.  
It was another exhibit of tenacity from the no-quit Indians, who led for the majority of the game, only to lose the advantage, regain it, lose it again and then regain it again when it mattered most.
“It’s a credit to these guys,” said bench coach Jeff Datz, who filled in for manager Eric Wedge during the postgame interview session after Wedge was ejected in the fourth inning. “They battle and they go hard.”
Cleveland equaled a season high with their sixth consecutive win – 11th in 14 games — to remain 4½ games in front of second-place Detroit in the Central Division standings. Seattle, which is battling for the American League wild-card berth, lost its sixth straight.
Indians starter Aaron Laffey was effective through the majority of his fourth start on the big league level, shutting the Mariners out on just two hits through the first five innings. After allowing a one-out double in the second, the left-hander retired the next 11 hitters he faced.
Seattle finally caught up to Laffey in the sixth, scoring twice, the first on a leadoff home run from Adam Jones, who hit his second career homer and first of the season to pull the Mariners within a run.
Laffey allowed two more in the seventh, leaving two on with one out for reliever Rafael Perez, who allowed the Mariners to tie the game on a hit from Jones, and then take a 4-3 lead on a single from Yuniesky Betancourt.
Perez entered game having allowed just four of 28 inherited runners to score and had not allowed one to cross the plate since a sacrifice fly scored on July 27 in Minnesota.
The Indians, who got their only runs off Seattle starter Horacio Ramirez in the second inning on a two-run single from Jason Michaels followed by an RBI hit from Chris Gomez, got Laffey and Perez off the hook in the bottom half of the seventh.
Cleveland took a one-run lead off a two-out single from Victor Martinez followed by an RBI double from Ryan Garko.
But Borowski, pitching for the third straight night and fourth time in five days, gave it back. He walked the leadoff hitter in the ninth, former Indian Ben Broussard, who scored the tying run on a grounder from Betancourt, before Borowksi was able to end the threat with the game tied at 5.
“It all comes back to the leadoff walk,” Borowski said. “I had him 1-2. You can’t do that. A walk dictated that entire inning.
“Luckily they only scored one run and we were able to come back and win. It’s still a win, and some other guys got to be heroes.”
Namely Lofton.
After seeing two balls from White, Lofton took a strike before fouling off a pitch and watching another ball raise the count to full. Lofton fouled off a 3-2 pitch before White’s next offering came in high and inside.
“The pressure’s always on the pitcher,” Lofton said. “You have to throw strikes. You just have to go up there and tell yourself to be patient, no matter what he does.”
Garko was on base during the decisive final inning after being hit by a pitch for the 17th time this season. It equals the franchise record for Garko, who is tied for the major league lead in the department.
The Indians have struggled to put together a successful stretch of any significance since the All-Star break, but are catching fire at an opportune time, with a little over a month left in the regular season.
“It’s just how the game goes,” Lofton said. “Things are just falling our way when before maybe they weren’t.”
The game was the third of four makeup games between the two teams, who were snowed out during the Indians’ home-opening series April 6-9 at Jacobs Field.
Game 4 will be made up in Seattle on Sept. 26, as part of a traditional doubleheader.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.