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05/28/07 11:45 PM ET
Indians fall short in Sox opener
Disputed call short circuits ninth-inning rally against Papelbon
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Casey Blake and Eric Wedge thought they knew what a swinging strike was. After all, they had plenty of examples of the action throughout Monday night's 5-3 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Boston starter Curt Schilling had struck out 10 Indians in seven brilliant innings, and only one of those was looking. The swing-and-miss was almost second-nature to the Tribe in this one. But it was a purported swing in the top of the ninth that had both men steaming in the aftermath of a game in which the Indians' four-game winning streak was struck down. This loss taught Blake a little-known segment of the rule book and reinforced a notion he was already aware of. "A lot of umpires," he said, "have different ideas of what a swing is." And in this game, first-base umpire Chuck Meriweather's idea of what a swing is helped prevent the Indians from coming back in a game that looked as though it could swing in either direction. With the tying runs in scoring position, one out and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon on the ropes, Blake had a chance to come through with a big hit. Instead, Blake got hit on the hand with a 1-2 fastball. He trotted toward first base, stopping midway so that head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff could examine his hand. And then, suddenly, Blake was ruled out. Upon Boston manager Terry Francona's request, home-plate umpire Rick Reed consulted with Meriweather, who ruled Blake had swung at the pitch that hit him. Per rule 6.05(f), that's a dead-ball strike, and, in this case, strike three. So, did Blake swing? "It all happened so fast," Blake said. "Who knows? My upper body rotated, but in my opinion it wasn't a swing." Wedge, as you might guess, was of the same opinion. "I didn't see it from [the umpires'] point of view," Wedge said, "to put it politely." This isn't the first time this season the Indians haven't seen eye-to-eye with this particular umpiring unit. Reed's crew is the same group that presided over the famous snowed-out home opener, in which the game was called with the Tribe ahead and one strike away from an official game. In this game, the Indians were never ahead. Schilling made sure of that. Though he's labored at times this year, he was his old self against the free-swinging Tribe. Former Boston "Dirt Dog" Trot Nixon had a hero's welcome in his return to Fenway, and his single to right off Schilling in the second was an emotional highlight. But for the Indians, that hit was one of just three they notched off Schilling in the game's first five innings, and none of those runners made it across. "[Schilling] threw the ball well, but we helped him a little bit," Wedge said. "We swung at some pitches out of the zone, and we had a couple pitches to hit that we missed." The Red Sox were missing quite a bit of what left-hander Cliff Lee was offering early on. He cruised through his first three innings of work, using 39 pitches in that span. Unexpectedly, though, Lee needed 38 pitches to get through the fourth, an inning that would prove to be his undoing. He was fortunate to limit the damage in that inning to a pair of runs -- back-to-back RBI doubles from J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell -- but the high pitch count ensured his outing would be a short one. Lee gave up another run on Manny Ramirez's rocket of a solo homer over the Green Monster in his fifth and final inning of work, and the Indians were down, 3-0. "I felt I had my 'A' game," said Lee, who has compiled a 7.53 ERA in four starts since his complete game in Anaheim on May 8. "I've got to give credit to [the Red Sox] for battling and making me throw so many pitches." The Indians turned only one of Schilling's pitches into a tally on the scoreboard. That came in the sixth, when Martinez drove Blake in with a single up the middle. Relievers Roberto Hernandez and Mike Koplove each gave up a run in the late innings, but Nixon's sac fly in the eighth kept the Tribe within striking distance. It was a 5-2 ballgame heading into the ninth, with Papelbon coming to the mound. The Indians jumped all over the young closer. David Dellucci drew a leadoff walk, Ryan Garko moved him to third with a single, and Josh Barfield drove in a run with a hard-hit double off the Monster. This was the Tribe's opportunity to break through. Even after Grady Sizemore popped out, Blake knew a single had the chance to bring home both runs. But the controversial strike out killed the momentum of the inning. Travis Hafner went down swinging -- and there was no doubt that this one was a swing -- to end the game. "[Papelbon] is one of the better closers in the game," Blake said. "But gosh ... we should have at least gotten one, if not both, of those runners in." As incredulous as he was at the way the ninth unfolded, Blake was even more blown away to learn of that rarely enforced rule. "I guess I don't know the rules well enough," he said. "How is a dead ball a strike? It doesn't make any sense. It's just a bad deal all the way around."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.