CLEVELAND -- They decided on Saturday not to count so heavily on their pitching.
|Juan Gonzalez watches his solo homer along with Mariners catcher Dan Wilson in the third inning.
Not that the Indians didn't get splendid pitching from rookie starter C.C. Sabathia against Seattle, but, well, the Tribe might have trotted out journeyman Albie Lopez and he'd have won easily with 17 runs of support.
The Indians hit.
And they hit.
So say all you wanted about the importance of good pitching, but it didn't hurt the Indians a lick that their offense put a dozen or so runs on the scoreboard to complement Sabathia's work.
"Once it got started," said center fielder Kenny Lofton, all aglow after the 17-2 stomping the Tribe gave Seattle, "it just escalated and kept going."
It rained runs at The Jake Saturday. Those runs came in a ballgame the Indians needed to win to hold onto their home-field edge, and they came against a team, the Mariners, that had laid waste to the baseball landscape this season.
Seattle's 116 wins tied an all-time record. They led the league in hitting. They led the league in pitching, and they led the league in defense.
But none of those firsts amounted to much Saturday against the offensive juggernaut of the Indians.
"There were a lot of hits out there -- 19 hits," Mariners Manager Lou Piniella said. I don't think we made particularly good pitches against them. They hit the ball all over the field."
Yes, the Tribe, battered Seattle starter Aaron Sele and relievers Paul Abbott and Jose Paniagua in a display of hitting that looked more like batting practice. The Indians homered three times. They had a couple of doubles, sprinkled singles everywhere in Jacobs Field, and they took seven walks.
They also benefited from a sloppy Mariners defense (three errors) that led to a couple of unearned runs.
But subtract those two unearned runs, and you're still looking at a rout. The Indians simply played good ol' country hardball.
"This probably the worst game we played all year," Piniella said. "Not because they scored 17 runs, but we were not sharp on the field."
Nor were the Mariners sharp on the mound. Only John Halama, who worked two innings, was able to stop the scoring. But he, too, gave up a couple of hits.
Then again, what Mariners pitcher didn't? The Tribe hit all of 'em hard.
The Indians hit.
And they hit.
From the top of their lineup to the bottom, they hit. All that heavy lumber put the Indians one win away from moving on to the next round of the American League playoffs.
Trailing 1-0 in the first inning, the Indians erased that deficit in a hurry. They scored twice in the bottom of the first. They scored twice in the second. They scored four runs in the third.
"I thought the key was taking it from 4-1 to -- what was it? -- 8-1 in the fourth inning," Cleveland General Manager John Hart said. That was a big, big inning.
"They shut us down there, and they're a bloop and a bomb away from being right back in the game," he said.
A few homers here by Juan Gonzalez, Lofton and Jim Thome and several key RBI hits, and the next thing you knew, the Tribe had piled up a team record of 17 runs. The 19 hits were the most ever by the Indians in a playoff game. Omar Vizquel, no big banger, set a team record with six RBIs. Gonzalez was 4-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs, and Roberto Alomar was 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
"Some guys needed to get some hits today -- especially myself," said Lofton, voicing a thought with which no one in Indians blue would quarrel. "I was 0-for-whatever."
"These guys did the job," said Ellis Burks, a modest 1-for-4 for the game. "Juan, Roberto, Omar, Kenny -- I mean, the whole group just got off to a great start."
Indians Manager Charlie Manuel agreed.
"We hit the ball," he said. "We hit the ball to all fields. Things fell for us, and things went our way. We hit the ball out of our ballpark."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer with MLB.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.