CLEVELAND — Every loss is supposed to count as one, but some sure feel like they count a lot more.
So it was Saturday night with the Indians, who saw an excellent comeback turn into a crushing 7-6 defeat to the Washington Nationals.
It was so crushing that manager Terry Francona called what happened in the top of the ninth inning “heartbreaking,” a rare use of an emotional word by the manager.
Thing is, he was right.
At the center of it all was Nick Swisher, the free agent signee whose effervescence and attitude have been a key part of the Indians attempt to retool. At this point though, Swisher is struggling, and after the game he admitted his sore left shoulder is bothering him more than he’s let on.
“I’m grinding, guys,” he said. “I’m the type of guy that I want to be in there every day regardless of what I’ve got going on. Obviously it’s starting to physically show a little bit.”
Swisher didn’t specify exactly what’s wrong, but he missed time in spring training because of the shoulder. In late May, he took a few days off to try to get it healthy.
But as the problem has lingered his batting average has dropped to .237, and his run production has him with just 24 RBI — both numbers that aren’t characteristic of the guy the Indians signed. After a swing in the fifth inning, Swisher grabbed the shoulder. He was able to drop in a base hit for an RBI, but in the seventh Swisher hit a ball well that died at the warning track.
“I just don’t feel like I have that thump in my swing,” Swisher said. “That’s a frustrating thought for me because I like to let it rip every now and then.”
He said there would be a discussion about the best plan of action, and added “whatever decision we make (Sunday), we’re just gonna go at it full-on.”
A few days rest clearly seems an option, though the disabled list is also a possibility. Either way, Swisher said it might be time.
Swisher also was in the middle of a ninth inning mistake that cost the Indians dearly. With two outs and Vinnie Pestano pitching, second baseman Anthony Rendon hit a lazy pop behind first.
Swisher settled under it, then backed away from the ball at the last second. The ball fell between Swisher and Jason Kipnis in foul territory. Swisher was charged with an error and on the second pitch, Rendon hit his first career home run, to right field.
“Just a little miscommunication, man,” Swisher said in a largely silent clubhouse. “A popup goes up. You just kind of hear certain things. But either way, man, that shouldn’t happen to us. But hey, it did, and it cost us a game.”
Swisher would not get into the specifics of what he heard, except to say it was handled. “I was coming over to it,” Kipnis said. “It looked like he might have had it so I was going to give him the benefit of the doubt. I said, ‘Take it, take it.’ From his point of view he probably thought I was going to have it. It was nothing more than miscommunication. He thought I was gonna take it. I thought he was gonna take it.”
Kipnis said the ball probably should be the second baseman’s, and he’s probably right. The first baseman has to backpedal, the second baseman can run laterally.
“It was probably a ball I need to take more charge of,” Kipnis said.
Rendon, in his 16th major league game, took advantage of the second chance.
“It’s crazy,” Swisher said. “A popup happens and a dude that doesn’t have many home runs comes up and goes oppo (opposite field) on us.”
There was a lot of shared responsibility. Swisher said the miscommunication should not have happened. Kipnis said Pestano should not have had to throw another pitch. Pestano said the home run was on him.
“I’ve got the ball in my hand,” Pestano said. “It’s not the dropped ball that caused that. It’s the pitch that I threw.”
A pitch Pestano said was belt high and right down the middle.
“A fair assessment is it wasn’t a very good pitch.” Pestano said.
There was so much frustration, much of it caused by the fact the Indians had erased a 5-0 deficit and scored six runs off Jordan Zimmermann, one of the NL’s best starters.
But Joe Smith grooved an 0-2 pitch to pinch-hitter Chad Tracy in the eighth, and Tracy hit his eighth career pinch-hit home run to tie the game — and ended an 0-for-21 streak.
There was Smith giving up a home run when he started the eighth with a 1.16 ERA. And Michael Bourn jumping in disappointment as his last-out line drive in the bottom of the ninth went right to Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche with Mike Aviles on second. And starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who gave up five runs in two and two-thirds innings even though he said he felt better than he has in a long time.
“To put them in a spot like the first couple innings is . . . unacceptable,” Kazmir said.
The Indians had two great defensive plays from Aviles and Michael Brantley. They had a good crowd of 33,000-plus. They had the comeback.
But in the end they had shock and silence as they lamented the most routine of plays that was not completed — with Swisher talking as if his shoulder situation has lingered too long.