BOSTON -- David Huff can't seem to catch a break.
The last time he pitched before Tuesday, the Angels' Ervin Santana held the Tribe without a hit, letting 5 2/3 solid innings from Huff go to waste.
Huff was on top of his game again Tuesday night against the Red Sox -- despite having to warm up twice during a 95-minute rain delay to start the game -- tossing five innings, allowing three hits and one unearned run against Boston's league-leading offense.
But the bullpen couldn't protect the lead Huff turned over when he left, and Vinnie Pestano served up the game-winning hit to Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-2 loss.
"All the credit goes to David Huff, who pitched a tremendous ballgame," said manager Manny Acta. "But at the end, they came back and beat our bullpen, which has been our strength. They pieced three hits together at the end there, one off a broken bat, there's not much you can do. I just like the way we're fighting right now."
The new-look left-hander, who arrived in the Majors this season with a quicker delivery and improved cutter, was promoted for what was thought to be just a spot start on July 18. But Huff has pitched three solid games since, allowing just one earned run over 17 2/3 innings.
But the 26-year-old Huff suffered some bad luck along the way, with another bump in the road coming immediately after Tuesday's game, when he was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus.
Acta said there was nothing more Huff needed to work on, but the team had to make room for Ubaldo Jimenez and the Tribe's skipper didn't want a six-man rotation.
"His fastball velocity has been better, his breaking ball has been sharper, and just adding that cutter gives him another weapon," said Acta. "I'm anticipating that we're going to see him again, just by the way he threw the ball. He deserves to continue to pitch for us ... I know he'll be back up here sooner rather than later."
Huff said he was surprised to hear of his demotion after the game, but, overall, his three-week stint in the Majors only built confidence that he can pitch against the best hitters in the game.
"The stuff I've been working on at Triple-A, I got to see it at the Major League level, and it works, so I'm going to continue to do it," he said. "I can't persuade them otherwise, so I'm just going to go back down, work on what I've been working on and, hopefully, when they need me, I'll be ready again."
Huff had the Red Sox off-balance from the start of Tuesday's game. Of the six strikeouts he recorded over five innings, three of them couldn't be handled by Carlos Santana, either dropping in the dirt or rolling past the Cleveland catcher.
Huff allowed just a single run, coming after an error in the second inning. After he walked David Ortiz, Huff induced a ground ball to short from Carl Crawford that appeared possibly ticketed for a double play. But Asdrubal Cabrera's throw to second was just off the mark, leaving Jason Kipnis reaching off the bag and mishandling the ball for a costly error.
"We know that we have to be patient [with young infielders], and it wasn't the best feed either, but we have to understand we're not going to turn a double play with Crawford running in that situation," Acta said. "That being said, that didn't cost us the game. We had the lead after that and just couldn't hold it."
Mike Aviles then knocked a single to right field to advance the runners. Huff then struck out Jason Varitek on a curveball in the dirt, but the ball scooted by Santana and Ortiz scored easily from third.
"I only threw it probably 40 feet -- I was surprised he actually swung at it," Huff said. "That's a tough one to block for Santana ... [My curve ball] was surprisingly really good tonight. Normally, that's my third or fourth pitch."
The defense behind Huff faltered again in the fifth inning, when Cabrera couldn't handle a sharply hit grounder from Ellsbury. Dustin Pedroia then knocked a base hit to right, but Huff induced a double play from Adrian Gonzalez to end the inning.
Rafael Perez, who hadn't allowed a home run in 43 1/3 innings this season, replaced Huff in the sixth and promptly allowed a homer from Youkilis over the Green Monster as the Sox tied the game at 2.
Kipnis homered for his third straight game and Lonnie Chisenhall also knocked one out off Boston starter Josh Beckett to put the Indians on top early, but Beckett was difficult to solve the rest of the way, needing just 85 pitches to get through six innings of work.
"It was two solo shots, so it wasn't much of an offensive output tonight, but it's nice to contribute where we can," Chisenhall said of the two rookies carrying the offense. "[Beckett] was just getting his pitches across and pounding the zone, and working both sides of the plate. It's tough to adjust to that."
While Franklin Morales and Jonathan Papelbon held Cleveland's bats at bay, the Tribe's bullpen couldn't match their effort. Tony Sipp escaped a jam in the eighth inning, but Pestano gave up the game-winner in the ninth.
Varitek smacked a single into center before Josh Reddick followed suit, putting runners on first and second with one out. Ellsbury then won the at-bat with Pestano, knocking a single up the middle as pinch-runner Jarrod Saltalamacchia rounded third. Ezequiel Carrera's throw from center was just off the mark as Saltalamacchia slid in for the game-winning run.
The two teams are back at it on Wednesday for a 7:10 p.m. ET start time, as Carlos Carrasco looks to end a five-game losing streak against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.