SEATTLE — Nelson Cruz breathed a little extra life to the Seattle Mariners’ dwindling playoff hopes — and slowed baseball’s hottest team in the process.
Cruz hit a game-ending two-run home run in the ninth inning off closer Cody Allen, lifting the Mariners to a 3-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.
Seattle snapped a six-game skid that all but crushed its hopes for the second wild card in the American League. The Mariners are five games behind Minnesota for the last AL playoff spot with eight games remaining.
Cruz has homered in three straight games and has 36 this season.
“He’s special. He’s a special player,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
It took a major punch from Cruz to finally knock down the Indians. Cleveland lost for the second time since Aug. 23, a span of 29 games that included an historic 22-game winning streak. It ended a franchise-record 14-game road winning streak — the Indians hadn’t lost away from home since Aug. 20 at Kansas City.
“He’s been one of the best, productive bats in the league for a while now and it doesn’t seem to be going with age,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said of Cruz. “He seems to be every bit as good as he ever was.”
Cruz lined a 2-1 pitch from closer Allen (3-7) out to deep right-center field after Robinson Cano had opened the inning with a single. Each of Cruz’s last three home runs have gone to the opposite field, and he upped his AL-leading RBI total to 114.
“I threw a couple bad breaking balls to Cano. You throw some bad pitches like that to some really good hitters, more often than not they’re going to beat you,” Allen said.
It was a pitchers’ duel most of the way between Seattle’s Erasmo Ramirez and Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer. Giovanny Urshela homered for the Indians’ only run, and Seattle pulled even in the seventh. Kyle Seager led off with a double, and Yonder Alonso followed with a single to right. Seager was initially held at third, but Jay Bruce mishandled the ball, and the error allowed Seager to score and tie the game.
Urshela’s homer was his first of the season and seventh of his career. His last home run came on Sept. 14, 2015.
Ramirez tied a career high with eight innings, getting there for the first time since Sept. 18, 2012 — during his first stint with the Mariners. Ramirez kept the Indians guessing throughout, also matching a career-high with 10 strikeouts. He retired his final 18 batters after Urshela’s homer in the third inning.
Ramirez was the first Seattle pitcher to go eight innings since Andrew Moore on July 3. Edwin Diaz (4-6) pitched the ninth to cap a three-hitter.
“To be able to get back on track after that homer was something huge, for me and for the team, too,” Ramirez said.
The outstanding performance from Ramirez kept Bauer from being able to match teammate Corey Kluber with his 17th victory. Bauer scattered five hits over seven innings but was lifted before the eighth with his pitch count at 116 pitches. It was his eighth start of the season allowing one earned run or fewer.
LONG TIME COMING
While Cruz has three game-ending hits this season, it was the first time he homered to end a game since Sept. 10, 2010, when he was playing for Texas. It was the fifth time in his career he ended a game with a long ball.
Cleveland: OF Lonnie Chisenhall is scheduled to begin running Saturday as he continues to recover from a calf strain that has kept him out since July. Chisenhall will begin his running rehab back in Cleveland. … OF Brandon Guyer (wrist) will be re-examined when the team returns to Cleveland next week but could be soon cleared to resume hitting.
Cruz and teammates James Paxton and Nick Vincent were honored by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America on Friday. Cruz was named the team’s MVP, Paxton was voted the pitcher of the year and Vincent was honored with the “Unsung Hero” award.
“For a long time, he was probably the MVP of our team,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said of Vincent.
Indians: Carlos Carrasco (16-6) tries to match Kluber with 17 wins. Carrasco will be making his 31st start and has won his past four decisions.
Mariners: RHP Andrew Moore (1-4) makes what could be his last start of the season. It will be Moore’s ninth career start and his first against Cleveland.