BOSTON -- For all intents and purposes, four men -- Joe Borowski, Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis -- carried the Indians bullpen in the second half of the regular season and in the American League Division Series win over the Yankees. But the Indians are no longer a team on all fours. Be it through fatigue, postseason nerves or just plain bad luck, the left-handed setup man Perez hasn't held up his quarter of the four-man bargain in this AL Championship Series against the Red Sox. He's been sent out twice, in Games 2 and 5, and been roughed up to the tune of five runs (three earned) on four hits with two homers and a walk in just two-thirds of an inning.
Who is this guy, and what did he do with the 25-year-old rookie who strung together a 1.78 ERA in 44 regular-season appearances? "He's been in some tough situations," manager Eric Wedge said of Perez. "He hasn't had as many opportunities, as well, just in regard to the lineups." The Red Sox do have quite the balanced lineup, but the righty-lefty matchups never played too much of a factor in Wedge's use of Perez during the regular season. In fact, right-handers had more plate appearances (144) against Perez than left-handers (92). He limited right-handers to a .213 average (29-for-136), while holding fellow lefties to a .145 mark (12-for-83). Wedge might be a little bit trigger-shy about using Perez in key situations, given what's unfolded in recent days. In Game 2, Perez inherited a 4-3 Tribe lead and a runner left behind by Fausto Carmona. He gave up back-to-back homers to right-handers Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell and a single to the left-handed-hitting J.D. Drew before getting yanked. In Game 5 on Thursday night, Perez was given a fresh eighth inning to work with, as the Indians were trailing, 4-1. He walked Drew and got Jason Varitek to fly out, but his throwing error on a fielder's choice hit by Coco Crisp left two runners on. Julio Lugo singled on a bunt, and Perez was pulled for Tom Mastny, who let all three inherited runners score, inflating Perez's ERA. "I felt like [Perez] was a little bit better [Thursday]," Wedge said. "I felt like he was a little more aggressive with his stuff." Wedge still expects Perez to return to his role as one of the four prominent men in the 'pen this postseason. "You don't want to force-feed anything," Wedge said, "but I think he's still going to come into play here before it's all said and done." The Hafner shift: Opposing teams have pulled an infield shift on Travis Hafner all season. But on Friday, Wedge was asked about a different sort of Hafner shift -- a shift in his position in the lineup. The man known as Pronk has been punchless in the last three games of the ALCS. He is 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts since his single in the ninth inning of Game 2. He hasn't hit one ball out of the infield in that span, either. Yet Hafner will remain in his usual No. 3 spot of the lineup for Game 6, Wedge said. Indians.com or any Indians Team Shop. For those looking to take in the games from the comfort of the club seats while enjoying unlimited food and non-alcoholic drinks, those tickets are once again available for $25. On deck: The phrase "Game 6" became something akin to a dirty word in these parts in 1986. The Indians hope to make it that way again with Saturday's 8:23 p.m. ET game at Fenway. Right-hander Fausto Carmona (0-0, 3.46 ERA in postseason) will oppose right-hander Curt Schilling (1-0, 3.86 ERA).
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.