08/03/07 1:50 AM ET
Indians stretch unwanted streak
Cleveland loses four straight for first time this season
By David Briggs / MLB.com
Not once entering Wednesday had they lost more than three straight or won more than six consecutively.
That might be changing. And for the worse.
The Indians have dropped four straight for the first time this season after falling, 9-6, to the last-place Rangers on Wednesday in front of 25,721 at Jacobs Field.
And few losses will come in more disappointing fashion for the Tribe than this one, if only because of the feeling that they handed this one away.
How's that? Rookie reliever Jensen Lewis' pair of ill-fated defensive decisions led to a 10th-inning unraveling, the bullpen gave away a late lead and the club's clutch hitting went stagnant.
"This is probably the lowest our team has been this year," third baseman Casey Blake said.
Everything the Tribe did so well in the first half has vanished in a stretch that's seen them drop 15 of their last 24 and four straight series at The Jake.
"We're at a bump in the road right now," manager Eric Wedge said. "We're not playing very good baseball and we're not executing."
It's safe to say that execution part was in reference to Lewis' rough 10th inning.
With the game tied at 6, the inning started with Ramon Vazquez's single. Frank Catalanotto then tried to bunt the runner over to second, a strategy Lewis wanted to foil when the ball came almost directly back to him.
Bad move. Instead of taking the sure out at first base, Lewis fired a late throw to second. Vazquez slid in safely.
"An aggressive call," Wedge offered.
The Rangers then had Ian Kinsler sacrifice the pair over to second and third. Once again, however, Lewis eyed the lead runner. But Lewis staggered as he looked to third, and twisting back to first base, he sent a throw in the dirt that Mike Rouse, who was covering first, was unable to handle.
The play allowed Vazquez to score what ultimately would prove the game-winning run.
"It's unfortunate what happened," Lewis said. "It ended up being the difference."
Three batters and one out later, Lewis was walking off the field to a scattering of boos with the Indians trailing by three.
Yet even while it was Lewis' mistake-filled inning that officially began the fans' fire drill procession to the exits, the Tribe's real concern was why it had to come to that. Why after starter Paul Byrd tossed 5 1/3 innings of four-run ball, and left the bullpen with a 6-4 lead, would the Indians still be playing past 11 p.m.?
The answer lies in the Tribe's bats, which went missing against a mediocre Texas bullpen after knocking starter John Rheinecker out after 4 1/3 innings. And in a rare misstep by setup man Rafael Betancourt, whose 1.30 ERA coming in was third-best in the American League.
With two outs, runners on first and second and the Tribe ahead, 6-4, in the seventh inning, Betancourt allowed a game-tying double off the left-field wall to Catalanotto. It was just the sixth time in 50 games the Indians have fallen when leading after six innings.
Asked if he was frustrated, Wedge simply said, "Well, that's something I've got to keep under control. And I try to do that."
As do his players.
"We've still got plenty of reasons to be optimistic," Blake said. "There's still two months left."
Though, of course, the Tribe knows it better soon start making something out of that time.
"It's time for us to answer," Byrd said. "This team has shown character all year long through some of the things we've encountered, from snow to injuries to playing in different stadiums to this crazy schedule. This is just one of those times we need to respond."
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.