Indians get the drop on Red Sox in ninth
CLEVELAND - Both Jonathan Papelbon and Javier Lopez were warming. The easy choice would have been the closer, at least for most teams. But Red Sox manager Terry Francona rarely uses Papelbon in tie games on the road, so Lopez it was, trying to steer last night's game against the Indians through the bottom of the ninth, to get to a 10th inning in which the Sox could come through for their 12th straight win.
It didn't start well, with Mark DeRosa lashing his fourth hit of the game into right field. But a sacrifice bunt, which pushed DeRosa to second, and a swinging strikeout by Grady Sizemore left the onus on Asdrubal Cabrera.
With Cabrera's grounder to Kevin Youkilis at first base, it appeared the game would move to the 10th. But Lopez, at first base covering, couldn't hold on to Youkilis's throw, the ball popping up and off his glove. It landed behind him, DeRosa continued home, and the Sox' 11-game winning streak was over, with a 9-8 loss in front of 19,613 at Progressive Field.
"Every pitcher makes it thousands of times in their career," Lopez said. "I don't know, maybe I just took my eye off of it. It was a heck of a play by Youk. It was a good feed.
"I know Cabrera can run a little bit. I wanted to make sure I was there, so maybe I rushed things a little bit. It's a tough way to break a winning streak."
The clubhouse was somber, the players silently shoveling in food, the RBI baseball game that had amused the team earlier shut off. They have not been used to losing in recent days, their last defeat two weeks ago in Oakland.
The error on Lopez was the third of the game for the Sox, surprising for a team that has been surehanded this season. The pitcher's error came on the heels of one by normally exemplary third baseman Mike Lowell and one by returning shortstop Julio Lugo.
"We didn't lose the game on that play," Youkilis said. "There were other opportunities. It's all right. We'll go back out tomorrow and play another game."
But it was everything that led up to that play that made the difference. The Sox left 11 men on base, but they started out as if they were going to give Brad Penny no chance of losing. Despite being given a one-run lead after the first, a four-run lead after the second, and another four-run lead after the third, Penny gave it all back.
Most of it came back on a three-run homer by No. 9 hitter Ben Francisco in the third, which came on the heels of Lugo's miss of a relay from Youkilis. That brought Shin-Soo Choo home with the fourth run for the Indians.
Then Francisco took a 3-and-2 pitch out to left field. Three batters later, including a single and a walk, and the call went out to Hunter Jones.
Those first three innings, which left the teams tied at 7-7, featured exits by both starters, and 193 pitches by four hurlers.
"He didn't throw enough strikes," manager Terry Francona said of Penny. "It was almost even, the ball-strike ratio [43 balls, 46 strikes]. A lot of his fastballs were elevated. Again, we gave him some extra outs, too, right in the middle of that, which doesn't help. Just some balls in the middle of the plate, and some deeper counts."
Thus far, Penny, who has an ERA of 8.66, has proven little. He might ultimately turn out to be a placeholder on a one-year deal, as the Sox bide their time until Daisuke Matsuzaka leaves the disabled list, or until John Smoltz is ready.
Fortunately for the Sox, the amount of money devoted to Penny hardly makes him locked in as the No. 5 starter.
The bullpen, with a 1.26 ERA over its last 43 innings, almost converted behind Penny. The Indians were held scoreless until the seventh, when Takashi Saito gave up a homer to DeRosa - getting the picture of the night had by the Indians third baseman? - on a 2-and-0 pitch that tied the game. In the top of the inning, Lugo had produced what he thought would be the winning RBI, bringing home Jason Bay and giving the Sox the lead.
"I didn't throw strikes, and the pitch that I let DeRosa hit a home run with I couldn't locate where [Jason] Varitek wanted," Saito told Japanese reporters. "It's hard and disappointing when the team trusts me, but I have to fight back.
"When Papelbon's not here like last game, holding the game is one of the jobs the team wants me to do. Seventh or eighth inning with the lead also is the role the team wants me for, and I have to have good results to earn the trust back."
That left the game tied going into the ninth inning for the second time in as many nights. Monday night, Bay and the Sox prevailed with his three-run homer. Last night, the Indians took it, breaking the streak as the Sox did everything they hadn't done while winning 11 straight. They didn't get good starting pitching. They left men on base. They committed errors.
"You don't like losing, but we're playing good ball," Youkilis said. "There's too many games to sit around and mope. Just go home, get some rest, and get back at it again tomorrow night."
That's when they'll try to start another streak, try to take the rubber game of the series against the Indians before facing the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla. So even while there was a statement in the streak, it wasn't for the players. There wasn't anything they needed to learn about this team, even after beginning the year 2-6.
"We weren't concerned," Youkilis said. "You guys were concerned and the fans were concerned, but we're not concerned. We knew we're a good team. Sometimes we just have to prove it, I guess. And I think we did."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.