CLEVELAND -- One out, one pitch, one swing.
A nine-inning game in baseball sometimes comes down to just one element, and Tuesday night for the Indians there were several times when the result would have changed had the Indians completed one task.
Because they didn’t, a winnable game turned into a loss to Toronto.
The first of the key moments came when manager Terry Francona tried to get starter Justin Masterson through seven innings. Masterson had pitched six scoreless innings, but appeared to be wearing out or simply struggling in the seventh.
Problem was Francona had gone to his bullpen 19 times the previous five days, and he wanted to manage it carefully in the second game against the Blue Jays. He was not going to use Chris Perez or Cody Allen, and he wanted to limit Joe Smith, who had pitched the previous three days.
So Francona hoped Masterson could get through the seventh with a 1-0 lead even though the Indians starter was over 110 pitches.
“We needed just one grounder or something,” Francona said, admitting Masterson was probably getting tired. “And we couldn’t get it.”
Masterson took the responsibility, saying he was well aware Francona wanted him to get through seven.
“You’re the guy and Tito’s giving you that opportunity,” Masterson said. “You want to take advantage of the opportunity.”
He didn’t, as he gave up two runs and had to be relieved by Preston Guilmet (making his major league debut). Masterson said he overthrew some pitches and they sailed. Those led to consecutive two-out walks, which led to a two-out single by Emilio Bonaficio, the No. 8 hitter.
That led to Francona using five relievers, or probably three more than he had hoped.
“I didn’t really set the tone for the bullpen to come in,” Masterson said. “If I finish that seventh the way I’m supposed, it probably would have been a different story.”
The Indians managed to tie the game in the eighth, but with the bases loaded Francona pinch-hit Ryan Raburn, who this season was 11-for-21 with runners in scoring position and two out.
Raburn struck out.
In the top of the ninth, Francona brought in Rich Hill to get the first two hitters, which he did around a walk. That led to Francona bringing in Joe Smith.
“We actually set it up pretty much the way we wanted to,” Francona said.
The plan was to have Smith pitch to one guy: J.P. Arencibia, whom he had struck out four times in five at-bats (with a walk).
“We wanted to limit Smitty,” Francona said. “We didn’t want him to have a long inning.”
Arencibia dropped a single into left.
Which meant Smith would have a longer inning.
“It’s one of those things when you have to get one out,” Smith said. “I thought I could get one out, know what I mean?”
Smith walked the next hitter to load the bases, then got ahead of Munenori Kawasaki 1-2 but left a pitch over the plate. Kawasaki -- the nine hitter -- drove a hit to left-center, which combined with an error cleared the bases and gave the Blue Jays a 5-2 lead.
Smith knew this appearance was his fourth in four days, but he told Francona he could get through it.
“I said I was good,” Smith said. “I felt all right, but I wasn’t good. That’s for sure.”
The Indians refused to quit. They scored twice in the bottom of the ninth with two outs on two hits, a walk and a Toronto error. Down 5-4, their best hitter strode to the plate with runners on second and third.
Michael Brantley had started the game hitting .387 with runners in scoring position, and .429 with runners in scoring position and two out. He had driven in a run earlier in the game.
Toronto brought in Steve Delabar. Brantley who went to the plate looking for a fastball.
He got one on the first pitch, and it was hittable. Over the plate, little lower than belt high. Brantley wasn’t going to let the pitch he was looking for go.
“That’s exactly why I swung at the first pitch,” he said. “Good pitch to hit.”
Except he got under it and flew to center to end the game.
“I missed it,” Brantley said.
He was not the only one in the clubhouse thinking about the one that got away.
“If I would have given up one run,” Smith said, “we would have won the game.”
It was quite simply that kind of night.