SEATTLE -- Sitting in the visitors' dugout prior to Thursday night's game at Safeco Field, Indians manager Manny Acta was asked about the best way to approach Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. Acta answered by saying the secret is a strong performance by his own starting pitcher.
Cleveland right-hander Josh Tomlin showed precisely what Acta meant.
Tomlin kept pace with King Felix in the finale of this three-game series, helping Cleveland overcome an overpowering outing from the Seattle starter and setting the stage for a dramatic 2-1 comeback victory for the Tribe. It ended with a ninth-inning rally, but it was Tomlin's eight-inning effort that paved the way.
"I couldn't be any prouder of my little cowboy," Acta said.
When Tomlin -- a Texas native -- heard about that comment from his manager, the pitcher could not help but crack a smile.
"Well, good," Tomlin said. "I'm glad I made him happy."
With the victory, the Indians headed out of town with a 5-1 record on their current three-city swing through Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland. Cleveland will wrap up its trek with a three-game set against the A's, beginning on Friday. After prevailing despite a dominant performance from Hernandez, the Tribe surely will have an enjoyable flight.
The Indians just needed to get Hernandez off the hill to make it happen.
The former American League Cy Young winner blanked Cleveland's bats for eight stellar innings, piling up 12 strikeouts and scattering five hits along the way. The Indians put a runner in scoring position in each of the fourth and seventh innings, but Hernandez dodged any damage. The Tribe loaded the bases in the eighth, but Hernandez struck out Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo to escape again.
"Everybody knows that Felix is a stud," Acta said. "He showed that tonight again."
Following Choo's strikeout, Hernandez bounded down the mound, yelling and pounding his fist into his glove in celebration. With Hernandez's pitch count at 126, however, that served as his final act in this particular game. And with his exit came a bit of confidence that a comeback was now going to be a little more plausible.
"Facing Felix Hernandez is not a fun at-bat," Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan said. "The sooner you can get him out of the game the better. It's not a comfortable at-bat by any means."
The Mariners carried a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning -- thanks in part to a fifth-inning throwing error by Indians second baseman Kipnis. After Michael Saunders doubled off Tomlin and moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt, Kipnis gloved a grounder off the bat of John Jaso and misfired on an attempt to throw Saunders out at the plate.
Seattle was unable to come through with anything more against Tomlin (1-1), who struck out seven, walked none and yielded five hits in his eight innings of work.
"Tomlin did a really good job," Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. "We never really saw the same pitch twice. He hit is spots and kept it down. He was tough."
The Tribe's defense also played a big role.
That was most evident in the fourth inning, when Dustin Ackley doubled and moved to third base on a wild pitch. First baseman Casey Kotchman then caught a screaming line drive for the frame's second out. On the inning's final play, Kotchman made a leaning grab at first that followed a sharp spin-and-throw from shortstop Jason Donald on a grounder up the middle from Seager.
"Great play," Tomlin said. "I thought that ball was up the middle for sure. J.D. made a great play and Kotch made a great play at first as well."
Plays like those -- combined with Tomlin's outing -- gave the offense time to rally.
Leading 1-0 in the ninth inning, Seattle turned to closer Brandon League, who loaded the bases with a pair of walks and one hit allowed. That set up a pivotal meeting with Hannahan, who sliced the first pitch he received down the third-base line and just out of the reach of a diving Seager. The baseball rolled into left field and two runs scored, putting the Indians up, 2-1.
"I wanted to try to jump on him early," Hannahan said. "It was close. That was probably an inch from being a double play. It's funny how stuff works out in baseball. As soon as I hit it, I kind of looked up real quick and saw Seager dive for it and he was probably about an inch away from it."
Indians closer Chris Perez did the rest, holding the Mariners in check in the bottom of the ninth to seal the win and notch his fourth save of the season.
But this victory began and ended with Tomlin.
"He just went toe to toe with Felix," Acta said. "That's what we ask of these guys when we face guys like Felix. You've got to keep us in the game, and keep us close up until somebody makes a mistake and we can get in there and win the ballgame. He was fantastic. He deserves a lot of credit."