BOSTON -- Mookie Betts swung and missed at the curveball that Trevor Bauer sent diving toward the dirt in the second inning on Tuesday night. The Indians' starter thought he had a critical strikeout in a pressure-packed situation, and the Red Sox center fielder even began retreating to the home dugout in defeat.
At a crucial point in Cleveland's 9-1 loss to Boston, home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski ruled that Betts actually tipped the pitch, which Tribe catcher Roberto Perez could not snag before it struck the ground. Betts' at-bat was alive and breathing again and, not long after that, Bauer was making the long walk back to the visitors' clubhouse after another disappointing performance.
"It looked like strike three," Bauer said. "I don't know. I guess the umpire said he nicked it and it hit the ground first."
Perez confirmed as much to Indians manager Terry Francona, even though replays of the pitch made it hard to tell if Betts actually did make contact with the curve. If the ball did meet the bat of Boston's center fielder, it was of the slimmest margins. So often in baseball, slim margins can make all the difference.
"I even asked Roberto afterwards, and he said he fouled it," Francona said. "So, I don't know. It's a little bit odd. I haven't seen the video, but everybody that's seen it said it looks like it was strike three. So that's interesting."
For Bauer, what looked like a strikeout wound up leading to a blowout.
The young Cleveland starter stuck with the curveball two more times against Betts, who sent the third straight breaking ball he received ricocheting off the Green Monster in left field for a bases-loaded double. All three baserunners crossed the plate, pushing the Indians into a 4-0 hole at the time. Brock Holt followed with an RBI single and, following a strikeout of Xander Bogaerts, Bauer was lifted by Francona.
Bauer was charged with five runs and he only recorded five outs. The abbreviated showing dug too deep a hole for the Indians to overcome, and it continued a subpar second half for Bauer, who has a 7.05 ERA in seven turns since the All-Star break.
"He's fighting it right now. I think we all know that," Francona said. "When you're going really good and you feel good, you're confident and you're throwing pitches with conviction. I think right now he's probably second-guessing himself a little bit, like, 'Am I throwing the right pitch? Or, are they hitting it when I do?' We've got to get him back to being confident."
Asked if confidence was indeed an issue right now, Bauer did not dismiss the idea.
"It could be," he said. "I don't know."
Francona said predictability has been one of the problems.
"His stuff is fine," Francona said. "He's been getting hurt by either maybe doubling or tripling up on pitches, or throwing a ball in maybe to the wrong guy. There's stuff there that this kid can be successful. It's definitely frustrating right now, and I know it is for him, but nobody said it's always going to be easy. We've got to fight through it."
Betts' at-bat in the second inning -- which ended with three straight curveballs -- is an example of what Francona was referencing.
"The first one was really good," Francona said. "But then they steadily kind of crept up. And when you see maybe three in a row, a pitch that maybe he wouldn't hit after a fastball, you can certainly do it [when it's the] third one."
Asked about the sequence to Betts, Bauer said he felt the curve that resulted in the double was a good pitch.
"I felt like we had a good game plan, so I went to it again," Bauer said. "The one he hit. I still don't think it was a bad pitch. It was on the edge of the strike zone going down."