MINNEAPOLIS -- The ball has a way of finding players who are out of position. On Wednesday afternoon, it found Luis Valbuena out in left field at a critical point in the eighth inning against the Twins.
Valbuena is an infielder by trade, but was serving as an emergency substitute in left during the Tribe's 7-5 loss to the Twins at Target Field. Sure enough, Minnesota's Alexi Casilla drilled a pitch into deep left-center field, taking advantage of Cleveland's depleted roster.
"It's a tough situation," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "But you have to deal with it."
The situation that Acta referred to was the Indians' sudden lack of outfield depth.
Cleveland's regular left fielder, Michael Brantley, has been sidelined for the past two days with a stomach bug that came on after a bout with heat exhaustion. Travis Buck, next on the depth chart, was out with headaches after being hit in the head by a pitch from Twins lefty Francisco Liriano on Tuesday night.
The Indians (51-46), who are doing all they can to stay in the hunt for the American League Central crown, are also without right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (broken left thumb) and center fielder Grady Sizemore (right knee injury). Their absence has thrown a wrench into the Tribe's outfield alignment.
That is how Valbuena -- with all of 11 games of outfield experience with Triple-A Columbus this season under his belt -- wound up starting in left field on Wednesday. Cleveland was not going to make a move to promote an outfielder, especially since Brantley and Buck are not considered candidates for the disabled list.
"You just can't do that for one day," Acta said. "You can't bring somebody in here and then have Buck or Brantley ready [the next day]. It doesn't work that way. We're anticipating that both guys are going to be ready to play on Friday."
Even if the Indians wanted to make a move for a short-term fix, the options at Triple-A are limited. Shelley Duncan has yet to complete his required 10-day stay since being optioned by the Tribe, and outfielders such as Chad Huffman, Jerad Head and Tim Fedroff are short on experience and aren't on the 40-man roster.
It is easy to see why Cleveland is in the market for outfield help via trade.
For now, the Tribe had to roll the dice with Valbuena.
With the game in a 4-4 tie -- Twins starter Nick Blackburn and Indians starter Josh Tomlin each allowed four runs through six innings apiece -- Casilla sent a pitch from Tribe lefty Tony Sipp to left-center in the eighth. Valbuena sprinted from left and rookie Ezequiel Carrera flew across the grass from center.
As the two outfielders neared, they slowed at the last second and stumbled into each other after the ball dropped in for a ground-rule double. Acta said that it should have been Valbuena's ball, but the left fielder said neither he nor Carrera called for it. Valbuena admitted that he pulled up in fear of a collision.
"I got scared," Valbuena said. "I thought I had the ball and I felt Carrera next to me. I thought we were going to [run into each other]. It happens."
It might not have happened with a healthy Brantley manning left.
"If you have an everyday outfielder, I'm sure that it probably could have been caught," Acta said. "We know what we're dealing with. Luis is playing out of position. He played a lot of left field at Triple-A, but it's a different ballgame up here.
"It's the left fielder's ball. It's coming toward him more and he got to it easier."
It was a play that ignited a three-run push for the Twins (46-51).
"I thought it was a homer," Casilla said. "I thought it was gone. And then I looked, and they were on the ball, and I said, 'Oh my god.'"
Catcher Joe Mauer followed with a single off Sipp that dropped in front of Valbuena in left field. Later in the inning, Danny Valencia sent a pitch from Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano off the glove of second baseman Orlando Cabrera and into right for an RBI single. Tsuyoshi Nishioka added a two-run base hit to cap off the rally.
That undid the effort from the Indians' offense, which made the most of a missed catch in center by Ben Revere to the tune of a three-run fourth inning. In the sixth, Tribe designated hitter Travis Hafner doubled and later rumbled home on a passed ball to pull the game into a 4-4 deadlock.
In the ninth inning, rookie third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall added a solo homer for the Indians.
Tomlin was inconsistent throughout the afternoon. In four frames, the right-hander was sharp. In the each of the first and fourth innings, however, Tomlin surrendered two runs on three hits. One of the runs in the fourth came courtesy of a missed dive attempt by Carrera on an RBI double from Jim Thome.
"I just kind of had to battle," said Tomlin, who struck out two and allowed eight hits. "I felt like I had good stuff sometimes. You try to make a pitch to a certain guy in a certain situation and you just leave the ball up a little bit. That's what happened to me today. I left the ball up a couple times and they made me pay."
There was, however, also this fact: the Indians went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"We just didn't execute offensively," Acta said. "We had second-and-third with one out and couldn't drive the runner in. Then we had a man on second with no outs later in the game and couldn't execute. We didn't and they did. That was the story."
It was also the difference in the Indians finishing their seven-day, eight-game trip through Baltimore and Minneapolis with a winning record. Instead, Cleveland wrapped up the daunting trek with a 4-4 ledger that had a sour feel to it.
"In any other circumstances," Acta said, "I would've been satisfied with a split on the road. But I'm very disappointed, because in both of them we won the first two games and we weren't able to win any of the series.
"We felt we had a chance to win both series -- in Baltimore and here -- and we didn't."