Before the walkoff, came the muff.
Seattle Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen, messing up a play that pitchers and first basemen across the league work have worked on time and memorial during spring training, muffed a flip from first baseman Justin Smoke in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday afternoon, dropping the ball for an unbelievable error that allowed the Cleveland Indians to score the tying run.
It was right of Smoak to throw the ball, after a grounder came his way, and not try to beat Carlos Santana to the bag himself. Smoak's flip didn't have too much on it, or not enough. It wasn't too high that Wilhelmsen had to reach, and it wasn't too low that he had to stoop. Wilhelmsen wasn't late covering the bag, and Smoak didn't lead him too much. The ball hit him right in the leather. Everything about the play was right — except for the catch. Wilhelmsen, who came in 11 of 11 converting saves and really had pitched as well as anyone in ninth innings this season, just didn't catch it. After time was called Smoak bent over at the waste in apparent disbelief.
The Mariners re-took the lead in the top of the 10th, but manager Eric Wedge chose not to use Wilhelmsen for another inning, and they lost on a three-run home run by Yan Gomes — Cleveland's backup catcher — in the bottom half. It was an exhilarating ending to one of the more entertaining games of the season. For one side, anyway.
Wilhelmsen spoke matter-of-factly about his error, via Geoff Baker's Mariners Blog in the Seattle Times:
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