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CLE@SEA: Lillibridge leaps to make an incredible grab

SEATTLE -- The Indians denied giving the yellow-clad Mariners fans what they wanted to see at Safeco Field on Tuesday night. In front of a packed house, buzzing at the idea of witnessing Felix Hernandez twirling another perfect game, Cleveland struck quickly.

Three pitches into the evening, Jason Kipnis pulled a pitch from Hernandez into right field, removing any talk of a second consecutive no-hitter for the ace known as King Felix. Unfortunately for the Indians, avoiding history was all the club accomplished in a 5-1 defeat in the Emerald City.

"We weren't concerned about a perfect game," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We were concerned about just hanging in there with him and being able to score enough runs. It's almost impossible to throw back-to-back perfect games or no-hitters."

In fact, the only pitcher to accomplish the feat in baseball history is Johnny Vander Meer. He pieced together back-to-back no-hitters for the Reds in June 1938.

Cleveland headed into Tuesday knowing that history was on its side in that regard, but Seattle's fans watched in shock as another Hernandez -- Indians sinkerballer Roberto Hernandez -- flirted with a no-hitter on a day meant for honoring Felix. The Tribe's starter eventually buckled and the Indians limped to their seventh straight loss.

"It was unfortunate," Acta said, "because I thought that Hernandez, our Hernandez,threw the ball very well, too, and matched up pretty good against Felix."

The loss was the 20th in the past 24 games for the Indians, dating back to July 27. During that rough stretch, Cleveland also suffered an 11-game losing streak, the second-longest slide in club history. This is the first time since 2008 that the Tribe has had two losing streaks of at least seven games in the same season.

On Tuesday night, the King once again ruled his court.

In front of an announced crowd of 39,204, a significant spike from the 14,687 who turned up for Monday's game, Hernandez overpowered the Indians. The large gathering of fans donned bright yellow shirts, which are typically worn in one section down the left-field line on days that Hernandez starts.

It created a playoff-like atmosphere for Hernandez's first outing since fashioning the 23rd perfect game in baseball history against the Rays on Wednesday. This was a scene that served as an overwhelming reminder of Hernandez's recent perfection.

Indians left fielder Brent Lillibridge was asked whether the team had Felix's perfect game on its mind.

"Other than the 35,000 fans wearing the Felix shirts?" he said. "It's kind of hard not to notice it. He fared a lot better than my buddy Phil Humber did after his perfect game. Obviously, Felix is Felix. He's going to go out there with great stuff every game and compete."

His encore included 7 2/3 strong innings, in which Hernandez held Cleveland to one run on seven hits, ending with five strikeouts and one walk. He gave up four hits within the first three innings, but settled in and retired 11 consecutive hitters from the third to the seventh innings.

The Indians finally had something go their way in the seventh.

After Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley singled with one out, Hernandez looked to have an inning-ending double play in the works when Casey Kotchman chopped a pitch up the middle. Instead, the ball skipped just past the glove of shortstop Brendan Ryan for a run-scoring single that pulled the game into a 1-1 tie.

That, however, is where Cleveland's luck ran dry.

Brantley advanced to third base on an errant pickoff attempt by Seattle's starter, but the Indians then ran into trouble. On a would-be squeeze bunt, Lillibridge was unable to make contact with a 2-1 slider that tailed outside, leaving Brantley stranded too far off third.

Brantley was tagged out in a rundown and Lillibridge went on to strike out to end the inning.

"I thought it was the perfect count," Acta said of the squeeze attempt. "No guts, no glory. You've got to try to do something."

Lillibridge agreed.

"Especially in this park, runs are limited," he said. "You just try to scratch and claw and get the runs when you can. It was a tough pitch."

"That was big," Felix Hernandez said. "I was trying to throw the slider over the plate and I don't know why he didn't throw the bat at it. That was a big play right there."

Seattle carried its momentum into the home half of the seventh, when the club poured out four quick runs. John Jaso got things rolling with an RBI ground-rule double against Roberto Hernandez and Jesus Montero effectively put the game out of reach with a three-run home run off Tribe reliever Esmil Rogers.

Roberto Hernandez, who was making his second start of the season, picked up the loss for the Tribe after giving up four runs on three hits over six-plus innings. The big sinkerballer cruised through 14 Seattle hitters without allowing a hit before surrendering a home run to Eric Thames in the fifth inning.

Roberto Hernandez said he tried to block out his opponent.

"I don't think about who's pitching," he said. "I know, and everybody knows, you know, that guy is a good pitcher. But I don't think about that. I concentrate on throwing strikes."

The win went to King Felix, who has gone 8-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last 13 outings for the Mariners. The right-hander has never lost to the Indians in front of his home audience, either. Over five career outings against the Tribe in Seattle, the right-hander has gone 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA.

"He's an elite guy," Acta said.

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