CLEVELAND -- One more pitch. One more effective offering and Indians starter Carlos Carrasco could have escaped the fifth inning unscathed and Thursday evening might have included a different ending for Cleveland.
The 84 mph curveball that spun from Carrasco's right hand changed everything.
Down two strikes, Rangers center fielder Endy Chavez pulled the pitch into right field for a two-out single. From there, Carrasco came unglued, the Tribe's typically solid defense went awry and a game that began so crisp for the Indians ended with a sloppy thud: a 7-4 loss at the hands of Texas.
"Carlos was one pitch away," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
There was obvious frustration over that single moment that got away from Carrasco. That was due to the way everything suddenly unraveled over a two-inning span for the Tribe, a team that has kept its head above water while searching for a way to rediscover its early-season rhythm.
Cleveland's path to first place in the American League Central was paved with solid pitching and strong defense. Over the past month or so, and mostly in the last couple of weeks, both aspects have included extreme highs and deep lows. In the latest lapse, Texas took full advantage.
As a result, the Indians slipped to 33-21. On May 3, the Tribe was also 12 games over the break-even mark, with a 20-8 ledger. In the 26 games since then, a variety of issues -- injuries, inconsistency up and down the roster and tough opposing pitching, among other obstacles -- have led to a 13-13 record.
Explaining the loss to the Rangers, the reigning AL champions and current leaders of the AL West, was simple.
"We didn't do the two things that we have been doing so far," Acta said. "We didn't pitch very well, and we didn't play very good defense."
For the first four innings, neither the pitching nor the defense appeared to be a problem. Carrasco cruised through that stretch with only one hit surrendered and nine outs via ground balls. The Indians' offense also spotted him a 3-0 lead with an outburst against Texas starter Dave Bush in the second inning.
Carlos Santana walked and Grady Sizemore doubled to open the frame. Travis Buck and and Orlando Cabrera brought them each home with RBI singles. Jack Hannahan rounded out the three-run rally with a run-scoring groundout off Bush, who logged four innings in a spot start for injured Rangers lefty Matt Harrison.
"We had a three-run lead," Acta said. "I felt that probably could've gotten us to the bullpen territory and given us a chance to win the ballgame."
That was before the wheels came off for Carrasco (4-3), who was charged with six runs (five earned) on eight hits over six innings.
Still clinging to a 3-1 advantage in the fifth, Carrasco's ill-fated curveball to Chavez set the stage for a game-changing comeback for Texas (31-26). Chavez stole second base and later scored on an RBI single from Elvis Andrus. Slugger Josh Hamilton then used a run-scoring single of his own to tie the game at 3.
In the sixth inning, Cleveland's defense fell apart.
It began when Mitch Moreland singled to center field off Carrasco with Nelson Cruz on second base. Moreland overran first and got caught in a brief rundown, but Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta got caught up in monitoring Cruz at third. A quick throw to second baseman Orlando Cabrera, who was covering first base, could have ensured at least one out.
Instead, both Cruz and Moreland safely retreated.
"I was going to run [Moreland] back," LaPorta said. "Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Nelson Cruz running, or taking off from third. Then I turned, and by the time I turned and went back to first he was already back. You've got to learn from it."
Acta said LaPorta should made a swift throw one way or another.
"Get rid of the ball as quick as possible," Acta said. "If you get the guy hung up at third base, you should forget about the guy on first. Who cares about that guy? Just give up the ball and get [the guy at third]."
Yorvit Torrealba followed with a sacrifice fly to put the Rangers ahead, 4-3. That advantage increased to 5-3 when Chavez delivered a run-scoring triple. Chavez then scored on a botched play at home plate, where Carrasco and Santana had a complete miscommunication.
A pitch from Carrasco sailed past Santana, who made a quick scramble for the ball. Chavez opted to stay put at third -- until the catcher made a wild relay throw to Carrasco at home. The ball bounced into the infield and Chavez scored with ease to put Cleveland behind further, 6-3.
"Carlos went back there and he has his back to the plate," Acta said. "And Carrasco didn't say anything to him, so the kid threw the ball. The defense really didn't help us, but there were runners on base due to us not being able to make pitches."
LaPorta launched a solo home run in the seventh inning, but it was a blast that was far too little, and way too late.
"We had an opportunity to win that game," LaPorta said. "There were some things done, and we just didn't come through."