When needed most, Tribe's bats fall flat

When needed most, Tribe's bats fall flat

When needed most, Tribe's bats fall flat
BOSTON -- There is a distinct lack of fun being had by the team on the wrong end of a laugher. In the wake of the Indians' forgettable series finale at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon, there was only a quiet air filling the visitors' clubhouse.

The Red Sox roughed up Cleveland's pitching staff and silenced the club's lineup, creating a tough combination to overcome in a 12-1 rout in the final tilt in this four-game set. The Indians claimed the first game in the series, but limped out of town on the heels of the team's first three-game losing streak of the season.

"I'm very disappointed in this series, overall," said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose club has dropped five of its past six contests. "When you've got a four-game series in this place, and you win the first one, the least you expect is a split."

Instead, the play of the Indians and Red Sox was a direct contrast to their respective place in the American League standings. Cleveland leads the AL Central and Boston resides in last place in the AL East, but you would not have guessed it if the last three games were the only ones witnessed.

After breaking out early against Boston right-hander Josh Beckett en route to a win on Thursday night, Cleveland's offense struggled to mount much over the past three games. The Tribe had plenty of traffic on the basepaths, but continually came up empty when it mattered most. That unfortunate cycle persisted against righty Daniel Bard on Sunday.

"We just haven't been able to get the big hit and keep the momentum going," Acta said. "We had this guy [Bard] on the ropes a couple of times, and we just couldn't do it. The first day against their best pitcher we had some very good at-bats. It just didn't carry out the rest of the series."

Trailing 4-1 in the third inning, the Indians had the bases loaded with one out and designated hitter Travis Hafner at the plate. Hafner chopped a pitch from Bard to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who initiated a rally-killing double play. Just like that, the Tribe slipped to 6-for-38 in bases-loaded situations this season.

In the first three innings of Thursday's win, Cleveland scored seven runs, batting .467 in that early outpouring. In the 33 innings that came after that impressive opening act, the Indians managed only eight runs with a .223 (27-for-121) average. The Tribe had just one run -- thanks to a bases-loaded walk to Asdrubal Cabrera in the third -- in six innings against Bard in the finale.

Making matters worse was the fact that Boston's offense found a comfort zone against Cleveland's arms. Against Justin Masterson on Sunday, the Red Sox collected six runs on seven hits in six innings. Tribe reliever Dan Wheeler then entered and pitched his way off the team by giving up six runs in a disastrous seventh inning that pushed Boston to a 12-1 lead.

"Sometimes you catch teams at the wrong time," Indians outfielder Johnny Damon said. "It seemed like after that first game they kept hearing all the stuff in the media and they started to hit a bit more. It seemed like all those guys were spraying the ball all around the field."

Will Middlebrooks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia highlighted Boston's offensive showing on the afternoon with one home run apiece. Daniel Nava added a pair of doubles and three RBIs for the home team.

Wheeler, whose season ERA rose to 8.76 from 4.76 with his showing, was designated for assignment after the game. Cleveland has not announced which pitcher will be summoned from the Minor Leagues to assume his spot in the bullpen.

"He's not making pitches," Acta said. "You need to make pitches."

Masterson pitched better after giving up four runs in the first inning, but that proved to be damaging enough to do in the Indians. Middlebrooks, Nava and Saltalamacchia each came through with run-scoring hits in the first, but Masterson settled down and only yielded three hits over his final five frames.

The sinkerballer was kicking himself over that first inning, though.

"It's not fun," Masterson said. "You never want to start out like that. You want to try to minimize that to just two. Keep it at two, and then you feel a little bit better. Four and you're like, 'Oh my goodness. Come on.' You never want to put your boys in that type of hole."

Especially in light of how the Indians have been hitting of late.

"We played catchup baseball from the get-go," Acta said. "The way we're swinging right now, that was a lot to overcome."

And it was certainly nothing to laugh about.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.