CLEVELAND — One inning can sometimes change the outcome of a game.
And when a team is playing meaningful games in late August, one inning gone awry can seem big.
Which is what happened with the Indians Friday night, as they returned from a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim to lose 5-1 to the Minnesota Twins.
The key occurrences of this loss took place when the game was close and the Indians had their best chance to turn a deficit into a lead.
It didn’t happen.
And as can happen, because it didn’t happen it can lead to second-guessing.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Michael Bourn led off with a walk, then stole second.
When Nick Swisher walked, the Indians had two on and nobody out and their three-four hitters coming to the plate.
“That was the part of the game we should have been able to score,” Bourn said.
The No. 3 hitter is Jason Kipnis, but he’s on an 0-for-19 stretch in his last four games. More important he has faced Twins pitcher Samuel Deduno 12 times — with one hit and five strikeouts.
Manager Terry Francona had Kipnis bunt in an attempt to get the go-ahead run to second.
But Kipnis, as seems to happen more and more with the modern player, did not get the bunt down when asked, fouling off two before striking out looking.
“That would be on me,” Francona said.
His reasoning: “He’s had a tough time with Deduno.” But Francona felt comfortable asking Kipnis to bunt because “Kip’s a good bunter.” He has three sacrifice bunts this season, but in this case he just didn’t get the ball down.
With one out, Francona gave Bourn the green light to steal. He said he liked the idea, especially with one out. Bourn is one of the team’s fastest players, but he’s admitted having a tough time taking advantage this season as he’s adjusted to American League pitchers.
That doesn’t dissuade him, or his manager.
“I like when he runs,” Francona said.
It fits the character of the team. The Indians don’t have the huge bat in the middle of the order, so they need to work for runs. One of their strengths is their speed, and Francona likes to use it when he needs it. He gives hitters the go-ahead, but doesn’t decide the specific pitch they should run. He’s said he’s not on the field and he thinks the players who are playing should decide the best time to go.
In this case, though, Carlos Santana was hitting left-handed against Deduno. Santana had two hits, and takes a lot of pitches. Deduno had walked two in the inning, and immediately ran the count to 2-and-0.
Which is when Bourn took off. When he ran, so did Swisher.
But Bourn ran on a high fastball away that Santana took, a pitch that allowed catcher Chris Herrmann to step toward third and throw with his momentum going that way.
“I had a decent jump,” Bourn said. “I took a chance. Sometimes I like to take risks in that situation. He threw me out. Nothing more than that.”
Bourn admitted that play “kind of killed the inning a little bit.”
Especially since Santana walked on the next pitch.
“We had a chance, first and second, but if I would have stayed we’d have had the bases loaded,” he said. “That happens. I take blame for it and we’ll be back (Saturday).”
Bourn said he felt he had a good read on Deduno’s delivery and motion, and if faced with the same situation he’d try again.
“I felt I knew what was going on,” he said, adding being thrown out is “part of being a base stealer.”
But that part of base stealing has happened a little more than Bourn probably would have liked this season. He’s stolen 19 bases, but averaged 37 in the seven seasons prior (including 42 last season, and 61, 52 and 61 from 2009-11). He’s also been thrown out 10 times, a Major League high.
That won’t stop Bourn from trying, though.
And in this case it’s almost a classic baseball choice. If he steals and gets momentum going in the inning, it’s a smart play. If he steals and is thrown out, it’s momentum killing.
“It was me,” he said. “It was all me. And that was on me.”
The loss marked the fourth time this season the Indians have returned from a winning road trip to lose the opening game of a homestand.
“We didn’t lose momentum,” Bourn said. “We’re still all right. We just lost a game. We’ll be back and we’ll be ready to play.”