ARLINGTON -- This was a critical trip that could have shattered any hope the Indians still have for contending for a playoff spot. The Tribe was tossed into the lion's dens of Fenway Park and Rangers Ballpark, tasked with facing two of the American League's powers.
These seven games could have decided Cleveland's fate.
"This road trip," Indians manager Manny Acta said, "when we left, we thought that it was going to be a tough one that could make us or break us."
The treacherous trek came to a discouraging conclusion on Sunday night, when the Indians' bullpen coughed up a late lead and sent the club home on the heels of a 5-3 loss to the Rangers. An eighth-inning collapse spoiled a strong effort from starter Josh Tomlin and surely paved the way for a quiet flight back to Cleveland.
Acta did all he could to sift through the wreckage of the latest loss to find the positives within another heartbreaker. The manager pointed to the Tribe's 3-4 showing through Boston and Texas. It was a disappointing result, but it was a performance that kept Cleveland in the postseason discussion.
The Indians (56-56) lost 1 1/2 games in the standings over the past seven games, but still sit just four games behind the AL Central-leading Tigers. Cleveland and Detroit are slated to square off 12 more times this season, beginning with an important three-game series that opens Tuesday at Progressive Field.
All things considered, Acta was pleased -- but hardly satisfied -- with how his team played over the past week.
"Despite the four heartbreaking losses," Acta said, "these guys kept their heads above water. That's what we wanted. We didn't want to come on the road and get buried by these two ballclubs. ... We're going back home now, playing our division and taking care of our own destiny."
Each of Cleveland's four losses on the road trip came in the last at-bat for the opposing team. The Red Sox recorded a pair of walk-off wins and the Rangers (64-51) followed suit on Friday. In Sunday's finale, it was a five-spot hung in the eighth inning that sent the Indians to the loss column.
In all seven games, Cleveland was tied or held a lead in the eighth inning or later.
"It's disappointing," Tomlin said. "It's disappointing for us as a team. We were in every single game. We obviously want to win those games. Everyone is working hard and trying to do everything they can to win these games.
"Take it for what it's worth. We lost and that's just that."
Tomlin had the Tribe in position to win.
Pitching in front of a host of family and friends from his hometown of Whitehouse, Texas, Tomlin pieced together seven shutout innings to open the blistering evening. The right-hander scattered three hits -- all singles -- over that span and took the mound in the eighth with a 3-0 lead.
One of the hits allowed by Tomlin was an infield single by Rangers third baseman Michael Young in the seventh. That marked the 2,000th hit of Young's career, and the crowd on hand offered the third baseman a warm standing ovation. Tomlin even took time to recognize the achievement, tipping his cap to Young from behind the mound.
Tomlin's three-run advantage was primarily delivered by Michael Brantley. The Indians' left fielder tripled home a run off Texas righty Colby Lewis in the fifth and added a solo home run in the eighth. Lonnie Chisenhall added a run-scoring sacrifice fly in the second to round out the Indians' offensive output.
In the eighth, though, thing unraveled swiftly.
"Tomlin was fantastic through seven innings," Acta said. "He ran out of gas in the eighth."
Tomlin issued a leadoff walk to Mike Napoli -- the third free pass of the night for the pitcher -- before giving up a base hit to Mitch Moreland. At that juncture, Acta had seen enough and he summoned the typically reliable sidearmer Joe Smith from the bullpen.
"Once they got to the bullpen," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said, "we felt like we had a good chance."
Yorvit Torrealba chopped a sinker to the left of the mound for an infield single that loaded the bases with no outs. Endy Chavez followed with a run-scoring base hit to center to trim the Tribe's lead to 3-1. Smith then walked Kinsler with the bases loaded before surrendering a two-run single to Elvis Andrus.
"Walking Kinsler," Acta said, "you don't want to do that type of stuff, especially when you have the bases loaded. I think that's what essentially killed [Smith] today."
When the smoke cleared, Texas had struck for five runs, Tomlin's shot at a 12th victory evaporated, and the Indians were on their way to a loss that was hard to swallow.
"The infield hit is what it is," Smith said. "When you throw sinkers, you're going to give those up. Everything else was just over the middle of the plate and up. I completely [stunk]. Tomlin throws seven great innings and I came in and I did not get the job done at all."
Like Acta, Smith did all he could to search for a silver lining.
"It definitely hurts," he said of the road trip's end result, "but we were in every game against two of the best teams in the AL, who are playing pretty good baseball right now. We've got a lot of games left in the division.
"If we take care of business when we get back home, we'll be all right come September."