Surging Indians keep Bard, Red Sox from going over top
CLEVELAND — The Red Sox were a team in disarray when they left Cleveland April 7. A season of great expectations had started with six consecutive losses, three of them coming against an Indians team supposedly in its latest stage of rebuilding.
The Sox returned to Progressive Field last night as contenders, having clawed their way to within a half-game of first place. But as far as the Indians were concerned, the visitors were simply more fodder.
The Indians rallied for two runs in the eighth inning to beat the Red Sox, 3-2, before a crowd of 19,225 that was rewarded for sitting through a steady rain.
For the second time in three nights, the Sox missed a chance to move into first place as both the Rays and Yankees lost. It’s hard to say what is a bigger surprise — that Cleveland has the best record in baseball at 30-15 or that the American League East has turned into a junkyard of mediocre teams.
“We just can’t get over the top,’’ said Dustin Pedroia, who left the game in the eighth inning after jamming his left foot but checked out fine. “It’s frustrating.’’
Clay Buchholz turned a 2-1 lead over to Daniel Bard with one out in the eighth and a runner on second base. But Bard, largely invincible last season, struggled again.
He got the second out on a popup, then got ahead of Michael Brantley, 1-and-2. But Bard could not put Brantley away, his inside fastball getting lined into right field for an RBI single.
“He didn’t hit it hard, just enough to get through,’’ Bard said. “That’s all he needed.’’
Brantley took second on the throw to the plate. With first base open, Francona had the option of walking Asdrubal Cabrera. The Cleveland shortstop arrived at the plate with eight hits and seven RBIs in his previous nine at-bats, including a home run earlier in the game.
Shin-Soo Choo, the on-deck hitter, was 0 for 3 in the game with two strikeouts and was hitting .246.
“No,’’ said Francona when asked if he gave any thought to walking Cabrera. “I know what he’s doing. But [Choo] is pretty good, too. Sometimes it can almost be an advantage when you have an open base. You can pitch backwards, do some things.’’
But Bard threw two fastballs, the second low and away. Cabrera drove it deep to left field for a double.
“Cabrera’s seeing the ball really well right now. He’s hitting pretty much anything,’’ Bard said.
Bard was lifted after the double. Rich Hill came in and struck out Choo on four pitches.
It was the second blown save in three appearances for Bard (1-4).
Joe Smith (2-1) got the win with Chris Perez picking up his 13th save. But it did not come easily.
J.D. Drew singled with one out and went to third on a single by Jed Lowrie. The Sox had a chance. But Carl Crawford, who had two of the Red Sox’ seven hits, hit the ball hard to second base for a double play.
“You don’t want to do that. It’s tough, especially with all the other stuff going on,’’ Crawford said.
Buchholz gave up two runs on four hits over 7 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked two. He was lifted after 94 pitches, having thrown a career-high 127 in his most recent start.
“He pitched great and it’s a shame. But we’ve got to take care of him,’’ Francona said. “He’s smart enough to know that.’’
Buchholz had retired seven straight Indians before Jack Hannahan singled to start the eighth. The ball skipped past Drew Sutton, who replaced Pedroia at second base.
Austin Kearns grounded to third, moving pinch runner Adam Everett to second base. That’s when Bard came in and the trouble started.
“Daniel, he has bailed me out way too many times for [Francona] not to have confidence in him,’’ said Buchholz, who finished the month with a 1.64 ERA in five starts. “It’s just one of those nights.’’
Cleveland righthander Justin Masterson dominated the Red Sox in two starts last season, giving up one run on six hits with nine strikeouts over 14 innings. He was impressive again last night.
Masterson surrendered two runs on four hits over 7 2/3 innings with two walks, two hit batters, and three strikeouts.
Masterson was drafted by the Red Sox in 2006 and was with the organization until July 31, 2009, when he and two other pitching prospects were traded to the Indians for Victor Martinez.
“It’s hard not to love him,’’ Francona said before the game. “We all do. I hope we beat his brains out.’’
The Red Sox did not exactly “beat his brains out’’ but did muster some offense against Masterson.
Crawford singled with one out in the third inning and moved up when Jarrod Saltalamacchia grounded out. Jacoby Ellsbury was hit by a pitch to extend the inning.
Pedroia then grounded a single into right field, scoring Crawford with the game’s first run. It was Pedroia’s first run batted in since May 2, a stretch of 72 at-bats.
The Sox added a second run in the fifth inning when Crawford hit his second home run of the season, a shot to right field.