CLEVELAND -- The third-inning pitch that Rockies right-hander Jason Hammel was going to throw slipped his mind. It was a key reason a possible three-game sweep of the Indians in an Interleague series slipped away Wednesday night.
With runners at second and third, in the few seconds after receiving catcher Matt Pagnozzi's sign, Hammel couldn't remember if the call was fastball or slider, so he stopped his motion and threw neither. The balk meant a run, and the Indians eventually won, 4-3, at Progressive Field in front of 17,568.
The balk came during a two-run inning, and Travis Hafner gave the Indians a 4-1 lead on a two-run, sixth-inning homer. Ty Wigginton gave the Rockies all their runs on a pair of home runs off Indians starter Josh Tomlin (9-4) -- a solo shot in the fifth and a two-run knock in the seventh.
After the balk, Hammel worked Hafner into a weak bouncer to the mound. It wasn't until the end of the game that Hammel and the Rockies felt the gift runs full effect.
"Just to forget what you're throwing is pretty silly," Hammel said. "You just got the sign two seconds before and then you forget two seconds later. That's just odd."
Had Hammel simply thrown the ball -- slider, fastball, whatever -- and made it as far as the dirt around home plate, thus making it a legal pitch, there was always the chance Pagnozzi could have caught it or blocked it. Or Hafner could have popped it up or fouled it. Any other scenario other than a balk for an awarded run would have been preferable.
"When you look at the final score of the game, I think it's significant," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "You're in a situation where you have a game in hand and, especially the way we were playing and the way it unfolded, it's a very winnable game. It's a run that actually helps to make the difference in the game.
"My initial thought was he caught a spike or something. But then when I thought back on it after what was said to me in the dugout, you didn't see anything like that."
The loss left the Rockies 37-37 a day after they had pushed above the break-even mark for the first time since May 24. The Rockies are still 3-0-1 in their last four series and have taken 2-of-3 from the top two teams in the American League West standings, the Tigers and the first-place Indians.
"You've got to feel good to win series," said Wigginton, who improved his season homer total to nine with his 13th career multi-homer game and first since last May 10, when he was with the Orioles and went deep twice off the Indians' Mitch Talbot. "We wanted to come in here, get a 'W' and get a sweep, but it didn't work out."
After being off Thursday, the Rockies will play the first of three against the Yankees on Friday night. The road trip ends with a makeup game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Monday.
Before the balk, Travis Buck doubled and Jack Hannahan walked, then Grady Sizemore singled in the Indians' first run. Hammel ended up going six innings, striking out four and pitching around five hits and five walks. But he didn't mind commending Hafner on his homer, his seventh of the season and second of the series.
"I went back and looked at it, and it wasn't a bad pitch at all," Hammel said. "We had pitched him away all night. I figured 2-0 was a good time and he was probably looking out over the plate to try and hit a home run, and it was on the black -- inside, right where I wanted it."
Hafner concurred with Hammel.
"It was actually a pretty good pitch," Hafner said. "It's a tough ball to keep fair, but fortunately it went fair."
Wigginton's homers accounted for two of the Rockies' five hits off Tomlin, who struck out three against no walks in 6 1/3 innings.
A strong bullpen effort from Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp and Chris Perez (18 saves) preserved the Indians' lead. The Rockies' Seth Smith, who won Tuesday night's game with a ninth-inning home run off Perez, doubled off the right-field wall with two out, but Perez worked Wigginton to fly out to center.
"Boy, [Smith] was a pain for us the whole series," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
This game, however, will be best remembered for the different twist it gave on Hammel's hard-luck story of 2011. Hammel entered Wednesday 22-4 in games in which the Rockies gave him at least three runs of support since he joined the club in 2009. However, he has spent much of the season as one of the least-supported pitchers in the National League.
Wednesday night, the Rockies gave Hammel his three runs. But that wasn't enough to overcome a night that included Hammel's odd mental flub.
"We're playing well," Hammel said. "I'm not bummed. It's frustrating because I'm the one that faltered."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.