Tribe fall to Bucs in ninth-inning walk-off
Bullpen drops Lee's solid start as road woes continue
PITTSBURGH -- Five losses in six games on the road trip that concluded Thursday night -- and eight losses in nine games overall -- won't do much to help manager Eric Wedge's job security.
But the Indians themselves haven't done much to help Wedge, either. And that was particularly evident in a 3-2 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park that sent the Tribe to a series loss against a fellow last-place ballclub. Whether it was the baffling inability of Wedge's relievers to throw strikes or Jhonny Peralta not properly fielding his position in a critical situation, the Indians got in their own way again, with their opponent winning in its last at-bat for the third time on the trip. "You've got to make pitches, challenge these hitters and be more aggressive and make plays," Wedge said. "There are a lot of things that have to happen to win a big league ballgame. That's what we're missing." What was not missing in this loss was another stellar effort from ace Cliff Lee. But the Indians' bullpen is essentially asking Lee to deliver nine innings each time out, and that's an unrealistic demand. Lee gave the Tribe seven innings in which he allowed a pair of runs on four hits with three walks and five strikeouts, and it was not enough. Though Lee has a 2.22 ERA over his past 14 starts, he has just four wins to show for it. Lee was not totally blameless in this loss, though, for he did cough up a two-run lead late. The Indians had staked him to it against Ross Ohlendorf with Shin-Soo Choo's RBI double in the third and Victor Martinez's solo homer in the sixth. Entrusted with that lead, Lee gave a run back in the bottom of the sixth, when he gave up a leadoff double to Andrew McCutchen, who later came in to score on Freddy Sanchez's sacrifice fly. Lee's more damaging mistakes came in the seventh. He made the grave error of walking leadoff man Andy LaRoche, and then Brandon Moss singled. Jason Jaramillo's sacrifice bunt moved the runners over and Lee intentionally walked Jack Wilson to get to the pitcher. Ohlendorf momentarily had Lee breathing easy when he popped out to left, but Lee threw a high fastball to McCutchen in a 3-2 count to walk in the tying run. "I can't walk in a run," Lee said. "That's never good. That's pretty frustrating. I've got to do a better job there." Wedge, troubled by his bullpen all season, was hoping Lee could do his job into the eighth or ninth. Lee had a fighting chance of doing so when he entered the seventh with 84 pitches under his belt. But the walks and the high pitch counts had him at 115 pitches after the seventh. "He went out to start the inning, and you're trying to figure out how to get him through the eighth and maybe get crazy and throw him into the ninth," Wedge said. "But he really had to work hard [in the seventh]. You've got to give credit to their guys. Cliff's one of the best in the game, and they really made him work." The Indians' offense further complicated matters by leaving the bases loaded against John Grabow in the top of the inning, with Martinez's liner to left getting caught at the track by Nyjer Morgan. After that, Wedge had to decide on which one of his rough-around-the-edges relievers to use to preserve the 2-2 tie. He ended up going with the age-old theory of matching up a right-hander against right-handed batters. Two right-handers were due up, so Wedge sent in Joe Smith, acquired from the Mets in the offseason and billed as a setup man. Smith got the first right-hander out, but he walked left-hander Adam LaRoche and his brother, the right-handed Andy. Wedge went with the custom practice of entrusting a southpaw to face a left-hander. Sure enough, Rafael Perez walked the left-handed-hitting Brandon Moss. Fortunately for the Indians, Perez momentarily stopped the insanity by getting Jarmillo to ground into an inning-ending double play. "We dodged a bullet there," Wedge said. The Indians weren't as lucky in the ninth. Matt Herges, who had been perhaps the Tribe's most dependable reliever prior to this series, quickly gave up singles to Wilson and Eric Hinske. The Indians called for the wheel play, in case McCutchen put down a sacrifice bunt. Third baseman Jamey Carroll was to charge in on the ball, and the shortstop Peralta was supposed to cover third. It didn't work out that way. McCutchen pulled back his bunt attempt and Wilson charged toward third -- something akin to a suicide mission. "If Jhonny goes to the bag," Wedge said, "[Wilson] is dead out." Not quite. Peralta was slow getting to the bag and was standing in front of it when catcher Kelly Shoppach's throw came in. Wilson was safe with the steal, and Herges then gave up the game-winning RBI single to McCutchen. The defensive gaffe and the pitching problems had sealed the Indians' 12th loss in their opponent's last at-bat. Given this propensity for such late-inning collapses, Herges was asked if the relievers are entering the game afraid to lose. "I'm sure people wonder that," Herges said. "But if that was in my mind, I shouldn't be here. If you're waiting to lose, we're all in the wrong business."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.