Before the walkoff, came the muff.
Seattle Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen, messing up a play that pitchers and first basemen across the league have worked on, time and again, 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:
“Smoakie made a great play and threw a perfect ball right to me,’’ Wilhemsen said. “I simply took my eyes off it and it fell out.’’
The Smoak homer nearly made everyody forget about that. But then the Mariners couldn’t get anybody out in the bottom of the 10th and all their efforts went for naught.
Smoak said the late loss clearly hurt in a clubhouse where many of the players seemed stunned and angry.
It was a total capsizing by the M's, who probably won't endure a tougher loss this season. M's fans might disagree, but this might be one of their 10 worst losses ever — though they've been creative enough through the years to maybe make it a top 20 instead. Instead of averting a sweep, the Mariners dropped their fifth straight. Three of the four losses at Cleveland came in the last at-bat. All gut-wrenchers, but this one was the hardest to stomach.