Dome finale full of frustration for Tribe
Rookie mistakes, Laffey's subpar start equal rough loss
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians were enablers, not spoilers, in their final visit to the Metrodome.Everything that transpired here over the past three days served to boost the Twins' hopes of catching the first-place Tigers in the American League Central and support the notion that the Indians are an inexperienced team finishing out a tough season on an uninspired note. The series concluded with Wednesday's 7-3 loss to Minnesota. It was a loss in which Aaron Laffey couldn't pitch around some defensive miscues that frustrated manager Eric Wedge. "We played very young," Wedge said. "It wasn't anything fundamental, it was just some decisions we made. There were five, six or seven situations where we have to be better." Wedge didn't want to call anybody out or get specific, but some of those situations were obvious. Laffey, who made his Major League debut in this building back in 2007, made the only defensive mistake that was tallied on the scoreboard. It was his fielding error in the third that opened the door for Michael Cuddyer's RBI single, which gave the Twins a 1-0 lead. Just before allowing that single, Laffey dropped a toss from Matt LaPorta on a would-be inning-ending groundout off the bat of Jason Kubel. In the fourth, a ball misplayed by Shin-Soo Choo allowed Jose Morales to turn what would have been a single into a double. And Laffey found trouble with two outs, walking Nick Punto to put two on, then serving up a Denard Span single to center. Morales scored on Span's single, and Span advanced to second when center fielder Michael Brantley tried, unsuccessfully, to nail Punto at third. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who would later leave the game with a right knee bruise, probably should have cut off the throw to prevent Span from advancing. With the two runners in scoring position, Laffey walked Orlando Cabrera, then gave up a two-run ground-ball single to Joe Mauer to make it 4-0. And in the fifth, Laffey served up a leadoff shot to Cuddyer to make it 5-0. It was clear, by that point, that Laffey was well on his way to a second successive subpar start. He allowed seven runs, six of which were earned, in 3 1/3 innings against the Rangers on Sept. 8. "I think this was more of a bad start than that one," Laffey said. "I threw more pitches that last start, but I threw the ball better. I lost my feel for it [this time]. Late in the game, I wasn't throwing quality pitches in quality locations." Laffey also didn't get much run support, though the Indians finally awoke against Nick Blackburn in the seventh, when the hot-hitting LaPorta smacked a two-run blast to center field to make it 5-2. In the bottom of the inning, however, Laffey quickly gave up a single to Kubel and an RBI double to Cuddyer before getting yanked. Morales later added a sacrifice fly off reliever Jess Todd to make it 7-2. Add it all up, and Laffey was again charged with seven runs, six of which were earned, with the lone unearned run also attributable to him in some fashion. He gave up 12 hits and walked three batters while striking out none. But Wedge didn't harp on Laffey's effort. "I don't feel we played that well behind him," Wedge said. Nor did Cleveland take full advantage of its two late opportunities to get back in the ballgame. With Blackburn gone, LaPorta singled home a run off Jesse Crain in the eighth, capping a series in which he went 6-for-12 with two homers and five RBIs. It was a confidence booster for LaPorta, who had been struggling a bit beforehand. "It's important not to give in right now," LaPorta said. "It doesn't matter what's going on around you. Part of being a man is finishing strong." But the Indians couldn't finish what LaPorta started. Luis Valbuena drew a walk off Crain to load the bases with two outs, but Matt Guerrier got Kelly Shoppach to pop out to end the inning. And in the ninth, the Tribe put two on with two outs against Guerrier. Cabrera fouled a ball off his right knee and left the game, and Jamey Carroll replaced him and grounded out. The Twins then turned to closer Joe Nathan, who retired Choo and Jhonny Peralta in order. Thus ended the Indians' days of playing under Minneapolis' Teflon dome. The Tribe went 89-110 all-time in the building. But what's more important is the way the Indians are closing out the 2009 season. What was once a second-half rally toward respectability has become a floundering finish akin to the start that got the Tribe in its out-of-contention predicament to begin with. Limping toward the finish line, which looms 17 games away, Cleveland has dropped 13 of 16. It appears the Indians' youth and inexperience is catching up with them. Wedge didn't deny that notion. "That's a fair assessment," he said. "It's part of it. You look at what's happening on a daily basis, and, quite frankly, you have to go through them. You're going to make mistakes, whether it be mental or fundamental, and you learn from it."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.