CLEVELAND — The fans finally came out to Progressive Field on Friday night. And the Indians didn’t disappoint.
With 34,282 in attendance, Cleveland sent its second-largest crowd of the season home happy, opening a four-game series against Seattle with a dramatic 6-3 victory.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis touched off a raucous celebration that’s been missing from Progressive Field since last year, clouting a three-run walk-off home run with two outs in the 10th inning.
It was the ninth win in 12 games for Cleveland, which remained tied atop the Central Division standings with defending champion Detroit.
“That was awesome,” said Kipnis, who pumped his fist as he rounded first base and threw down his batting helmet and screamed before leaping into the mass of teammates at home plate. “I was just as amped up as (the fans) were rounding first base.
They were fantastic all night. They really came with it tonight. I thought they were great. They were loud at the times they were supposed to be loud, and they were outstanding. It was definitely a great game to win tonight.
“This was outstanding. This was one of the more fun nights I’ve had on a baseball field.”
The Indians led 3-1 through five innings, but the Eric Wedge-led Mariners fought back to tie it in the sixth on a two-run homer from Raul Ibanez off reliever Rich Hill.
That set the stage for an exciting 10th inning for the Indians, who used their speed and power to strike with two outs against left-hander Lucas Luetge.
Drew Stubbs walked and was nearly picked off to end the inning, but managed to make it to second base before the throw from first baseman Justin Smoak. Leadoff man Michael Bourn followed by beating out an infield dribbler, bringing Kipnis to the plate.
Kipnis won the lefty-on-lefty matchup, sending an 0-1 offering from Luetge into the right-field seats.
“They watched a good game,” manager Terry Francona said of the fans. “Their team won. They got to watch fireworks. There were a lot of hot dogs eaten.
“I was watching our guys. I was so happy for them. I get a big kick out of that. Watching those guys jump on each other is fun.”
Cleveland got another positive performance from right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who was effective for the fourth straight outing, allowing two runs on seven hits, while striking out a season-high nine over five innings.
“I wish we could have gotten Ubaldo another win,” Kipnis said. “I thought he pitched great early on.”
Jimenez (3-2, 5.31 ERA), who struck out five of the first seven batters, didn’t get a decision, but he is 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA over his last four starts.
“He should feel good about himself,” Bourn said. “He’s backing up each start. He’s consistently throwing the ball. There’s life on everything.”
The Indians generated early offense against Seattle starter Brandon Maurer, but the production vanished late.
After Nick Swisher drew a leadoff walk, Carlos Santana followed with a double to start the second inning. Jason Giambi’s sacrifice fly scored the first run and Santana came home on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
A one-out solo homer from Kendrys Morales off Jimenez made it 2-1 in the fourth, and Cleveland gained another two-run cushion on Stubbs’ solo shot with one out in the fifth inning.
The Indians didn’t put a runner on base after the fifth until Stubbs’ walk in the 10th.
A walk-up crowd of 6,700 accounted for the sixth-largest in stadium history.
“You never want to put too much emphasis on different wins, but to come back before a crowd like this when a lot of the city came out to tonight’s game with the fireworks and dollar dogs, we knew we had a big crowd,” Kipnis said. “To get a win in front of them and to get it like this in front of them, hopefully it brings some of them back, because we had a lot of fun tonight.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.