Balls bounce wrong way in Indians' loss

Balls bounce wrong way in Indians' loss

CLEVELAND -- The smallest crowd in Progressive Field history showed up to watch the Indians play the Rangers on Wednesday night, and little of what they saw was good for a Tribe team that has now dropped five straight.

Another game-changing throwing error by Jhonny Peralta and the continuing inconsistency of the Indians' offense helped pave the way to a 6-2 defeat in front of a group that appeared even smaller than the announced crowd of 10,071.

There wasn't much of a crowd for Peralta to disappear into. But one of the few people who showed up managed to make an impact on the proceedings, as a fan interference call cost the Indians a run in the sixth.

That says all you need to know about the luck of this Tribe team, which is off to a 2-6 start in this young season.

"We've got to keep fighting," manager Manny Acta said. "There's no magic trick we can pull to stop it."

To stop it, the Indians are going to need either dominant pitching or a relentless offensive attack, whichever comes first. Until that happens, guys like Justin Masterson will probably continue to go to work in front of large sections of empty seats.

"In my mind, I keep looking for great things to happen to get people to see they're missing out," said Masterson, who had grown accustomed to nightly sellouts at Fenway Park during his time with the Red Sox. "If people are watching, they'd see all the chances we're having that we're just missing out on. There are good things to come here."

But good things did not come to Masterson early in this outing, and that made all the difference in the defeat.

In the first three of his six innings of work, Masterson had distinct trouble keeping the Rangers off the basepaths. Three batters into the ballgame, he had already given up an RBI double to Josh Hamilton.

"I threw a changeup that was 89 mph, which is not much of a changeup," Masterson admitted. "[Hamilton] did a great job staying back and driving it down the line."

In the second, Elvis Andrus' RBI single made it 2-0.

But the real damage came in the third, and it stemmed from a Peralta throwing error on what should have been a leadoff groundout from Michael Young. Instead, Young remained on base, moved to third on a Hamilton single and scored on a Vladimir Guerrero groundout. Hamilton was erased when he was caught stealing, which should have been the third out of the inning. Instead, the hot-hitting Nelson Cruz's solo homer to left made it 4-0.

This was, of course, the same Peralta whose throwing error in Detroit last Friday cost the Indians three runs in an eventual 5-2 loss.

Cause for concern?

"I'm happy with the way he's played defense," Acta said of Peralta. "You want everybody to catch every ball and make every throw, but he's made some very good plays, too. I'd rather focus on the positives than the two errors he's made."

Masterson settled in after the third and allowed just one hit over his last three innings of work. But it was too late to save him from the agony of defeat.

Perhaps it wouldn't have been, had a fan not intervened in the sixth. The Indians loaded the bases on starter Colby Lewis and reliever Dustin Nippert. Michael Brantley sent a bouncer down the first-base line that scooted into foul territory, and a fan reached over the rail and used his glove to stop the ball.

Two runs scored on the play, and Acta argued that Valbuena, motoring all the way, would have scored from first. Instead, first-base umpire Derryl Cousins decreed that Brantley be held up at second and Valbuena at third.

"It's not a ground-rule double, it's a judgment call," Acta explained. "My judgment is that with two outs... in a stadium that's not as new, with the fans not as close to the field, that ball wouldn't have come back [to the right fielder], and [Valbuena] would have scored easily. [Cousins] had a different judgment."

No matter who was right, Acta or the umpire, the fan was wrong to interfere, Brantley said.

"I know fans want the ball," he said, "but if it's in play, you have to let it go."

Maybe the run wouldn't have mattered much, as the Rangers did go on to post a pair on Aaron Laffey in the eighth and put this one to bed. Then again, maybe a 4-3 deficit with a runner on second would have led to a comeback.

We'll never know, because Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to end the inning and leave it at 4-2.

"The momentum was in our favor," Masterson said. "I'm not saying [the fan] killed it, but with a runner on second, down a run, that's a different story."

In the fan's defense, the state of the Indians' offense did not inspire a great deal of confidence in a comeback. The Tribe has not lived up to offensive expectations at the plate thus far this season, and that showed in a game in which the Indians were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 on base.

"I felt we had a lot of good at-bats until the count was deep," Acta said. "We had to really swing the bat late in the count, [but] we went for pitches out of the zone."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.