Unlike last year, bullpen not executing
Tribe relievers unable to back Byrd as Indians fall to Red Sox
CLEVELAND -- Just because the Indians have addressed Joe Borowski's injury concern doesn't mean their bullpen riddles, at large, are solved.Witness what transpired in a 5-3 loss to the Red Sox in front of 25,135 fans at Progressive Field on Tuesday night. The 'pen couldn't hold a one-run lead in the seventh inning or a 3-3 tie in the ninth, when pinch-hitter Jason Varitek's solo shot off Jensen Lewis gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run. As a result, the Indians suffered a two-game sweep, their fifth loss in six games and their fourth straight series defeat. Whereas winning games late was the hallmark of the '07 American League Central championship run, losing them late has been an early trademark of this Tribe team. The Indians are 1-3 in games tied after seven innings. "Obviously, we've been in some tight situations early," Lewis said of the 'pen. "Who knows? It may be a blessing in disguise to go through some adversity this early. Hopefully, this is something that helps us down the road." It certainly didn't help them on this night, in which Paul Byrd's first solid start of '08 went to waste, and the bats, save for a few flickering moments of success, continued their April slump. "We're just not clicking right now," Byrd said. "The big two-out hit with guys on seemed to happen quite a bit last year, and this year, we're struggling with that and making pitches in key situations -- and I've had as big a part in it as anybody." Byrd, though, didn't play much of a part in the negative side of this game. Working with Victor Martinez, as opposed to backup catcher Kelly Shoppach, for the first time since 2006, Byrd regained his characteristic control and gave up just one unearned run on six hits with no walks and six strikeouts over six innings. The Indians limited Byrd to 78 pitches, because he was coming off a three-inning, 43-pitch subpar start against the Angels, and they didn't want to stretch him out too far. Quite deservedly, Byrd was in line for a victory when he left after six innings. The Indians had gotten on the board in the fifth with Martinez's two-run single off Red Sox righty Tim Wakefield, who, aside from that mistake, buckled the Tribe with his knuckler. So it was a 2-1 lead handed to the bullpen in the seventh. Indians manager Eric Wedge sent out right-hander Jorge Julio, who promptly walked Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury. "I felt it was going to be a nice combo with Julio and how hard he throws [after] Byrdie," Wedge said. "He wasn't able to find the plate. But he's done a good job for us, and he's a guy I think we're going to need." Wedge was hoping he wouldn't need to dip into the back end of the bullpen at that juncture, but, given Julio's troubles, he had no choice. Left-hander Rafael Perez came in, and he was unable to come up with Julio Lugo's bunt popup in front of home plate. The bases were now loaded for third baseman Jed Lowrie, making his big league debut. He came through in the clutch by slapping a bouncing grounder through the hole on the left side of the infield, driving in a pair. Perez, to his credit, got out of the jam without any further damage, and the Indians were able to sneak the tying run across on Boston reliever Manny Delcarmen in the bottom of the inning. They loaded the bases for Ryan Garko, who was nailed on the top of the left hand by a mid-90s fastball to bring home a run. Garko, after being examined to by the training staff for a couple of minutes, remained in the game. But that was the last anybody heard from the Indians' bats. With the score knotted at 3, Lewis got out of a bases-loaded situation in the eighth. The ninth, however, was another story. One out into the ninth, the Red Sox sent in Varitek to pinch-hit for Kevin Cash. Lewis hung a 1-2 fastball to Varitek, who sent it sailing into the left-field bleachers. "We were trying to pound that outside corner," said Lewis, who also gave up an RBI single to Youkilis that inning. "That pitch just caught too much of the middle of the plate. I thought it was down enough, but he's a good enough hitter to get enough good wood on it and do some damage." Plenty of damage has been done against the Indians' bullpen this season. The Tribe's 5.66 relief ERA is the third worst in the Majors. "The cruelty of the game is when you're in the bullpen, you're a field-goal kicker," Lewis said. "You either get it done or you don't." Undoubtedly, the bullpen, which is one of several inconsistent areas on this club, hasn't been getting it done. And with Borowski out for at least two to four weeks with a right triceps strain, the relievers must adjust to new roles on the fly, as well. "The rest of us just have to step up," Lewis said. "No matter what inning it is, we have to go out and execute."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.