In a cruel twist of fate on Tuesday night, it was a grounder through the legs and another blown save that sent Cleveland to a 7-5 loss at the hands of the Twins at Progressive Field. Three errors in the final three innings sunk the Tribe, sending a solid start by rookie Corey Kluber to the wayside.
The latest blow came in the top of the ninth inning. Closer Chris Perez -- victim of one of the most incredible blown saves this season on Sunday night in Detroit -- allowed three runs (one earned) to help Minnesota complete a late-inning turnaround that silenced the stadium.
"It's an unacceptable performance," Perez said. "It's coming at the worst time for us as a club. We've just got to fight through it. That's the only thing you can do. The games aren't going away off the schedule. We've got to keep playing and try to turn this thing around. I'm not getting off the horse."
Following a rousing victory over the Tigers on July 26, the Indians have stumbled to the fourth losing streak of 11 or more games in their history. It is the longest slide since the club's 11-game skid in September of 2009 and one loss shy of matching the team's all-time tumble of 12 consecutive games in May of 1931.
Cleveland has surrendered 95 runs over the 11 games, marking the most runs allowed in any 11-game stretch for the team since it gave up 97 runs over the same amount of games in August of 1938.
Over the course of the current 11-game streak, Cleveland has lost its footing on the fringes of the postseason race. After pulling within 3 1/2 games of first place with its previous win -- that emotional comeback victory over Detroit -- the third-place Tribe now sits closer to last place than to second in the American League Central.
"Everybody wants to win bad," Acta said. "They're probably trying to do more than they're capable of."
Kluber did what he could to end the streak.
The rookie surrendered one run in the first inning, but settled down from there and went to work. Cleveland's rotation posted an 11.66 ERA over the previous 10 losses and had not tossed a quality start since July 26. Kluber put an end to that by giving the Tribe six solid frames with three runs (one earned) allowed.
"Kluber gave us what we needed," Acta said.
The pitcher's performance allowed the Indians' offense time to fight for a lead.
Facing Minnesota righty Samuel Deduno, Cleveland knotted the score, 1-1, in the first inning and then enjoyed a three-run outburst in the second. Shelley Duncan contributed a towering two-run home run to left field off Deduno, who bowed out after four innings. In the sixth, Carlos Santana pushed Cleveland to a 5-1 lead with an RBI double.
"We did score enough runs to win the ballgame," Acta said. "We were up by four in the seventh inning with one of the best bullpens in the game."
Kluber carried that four-run advantage into the seventh, but he flinched by allowing a leadoff double to Brian Dozier. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera then misplayed a grounder from Jamey Carroll for a costly error that put runners on the corners with no outs. At that turn, Acta turned to his bullpen, which boasted a 43-2 record when leading after seven innings.
The Twins went on to load the bases with two outs when sidearmer Joe Smith hit Josh Willingham with a pitch. Smith then induced a grounder from Justin Morneau, but the ball skipped between the legs of second baseman Jason Kipnis.
"When things are going bad, that's what happens," Acta said. "Kipnis has been our best infielder the whole season."
Two runs scored on the play, slicing Cleveland's lead down to one run, and prompting Acta to leave his perch in the home dugout once again. He leaned on lefty Chris Seddon (Sunday's starter) to escape the seventh and then turned to setup man Vinnie Pestano to get through the eighth inning.
Naturally, the fate of this contest was placed into the right-hand of Perez, who surrendered five runs with two outs in the 10th inning on Sunday to send the Tribe to a gut-wrenching defeat in Detroit. This time around, Perez yielded a one-out single to Willingham and then watched another defensive misstep derail the Tribe's fortune.
First baseman Casey Kotchman booted a sharply-hit grounder from Morneau, allowing pinch-runner Darin Mastroianni to score from second base, pulling the game into a 5-5 deadlock. Acta described it as a "weird hop," but third-base coach Steve Smith took it a step further.
"He won't make any excuses," Smith said. "I just saw a replay. I've never seen a play like that in my life. The ball was foul, he tried to backhand it and it shoots back fair."
"It took a bad hop," Kotchman agreed.
Perez did not make any excuses, either.
"After that play, it's still a tie game," said the closer. "We still have a chance to win, if I make some pitches to get out of it. That's the bottom line. I'm not making pitches."
Tsuyoshi Nishioka put the Twins ahead with a sacrifice fly and Brian Dozier followed with a bloop single down the left-field line that knocked the Tribe down, 7-5. Perez was eventually pulled and he received a chorus of boos as he headed off the field with his head hung.
"I deserved it," Perez said.
For the 11th straight game, Acta and the Indians were at a loss.
"Unfortunately," Acta said, "our two strengths during the season -- our defense and our bullpen -- kind of betrayed us."