DETROIT — This stretch of the Cleveland Indians season has come to this: An outfielder acquired in part for defensive prowess did not see a fly ball Friday night.
That missed catch didn’t cost the Indians a game, but it sure contributed to the Tigers 14th win over the Indians in 17 games.
A team that has played so fundamentally well is struggling to score, and struggling period. Two nights ago a baserunner stopped thinking a swing-and-a-miss was fouled off, ending a rally. Friday night a Gold Glove center fielder simply did not see a fly ball hit by Detroit, spurring a Tigers rally in a seven-inning 7-2 win.
“The Tigers are our nemesis right now,” said center fielder Michael Bourn, who lost the fly ball in the twilight that gave the Tigers two runs. “They’ve been able to handle us like we’re their child, pretty much.”
Usually even a parent lets a child win now and then, though.
“These guys have our number, no doubt,” first baseman Nick Swisher said.
It seems the Indians are in “one of those stretches.” They are 1-for-25 with runners in scoring position the last four games. They are finding some bad luck. And they are making mistakes. Witness Bourn, a two-time Gold Glove winner, missing a fly ball.
“I knew it was coming to me,” he said. “I couldn’t pick it back up. Obviously as you could see, I wasn’t even close to it. Usually I have a pretty good idea where it’s at, even if I lose it.
“That one I didn’t have any idea where it was at.”
Bourn made no excuses, took the blame and said it was his fault. He just lamented letting a fly ball by Victor Martinez with the bases loaded fall just short of the warning track for a double.
“That didn’t help things,” manager Terry Francona said.
Of course it didn’t, but saying the Indians lost because of that one play is also unfair. Because Zach McAllister had 10 baserunners — four walks — in three and two-thirds innings. And even if Bourn had seen and caught the ball one run would have scored on a sacrifice fly.
Instead of being the reason for the loss, the play was emblematic of the way things have gone lately for the Indians.
Just like in the seventh when Nick Swisher doubled with two out and Bourn on first. That should have been an easy run with Bourn running, except the ball bounced in the stands for a ground rule double.
In the second, the Indians had two doubles and a single, but scored one run because of an excellent defensive play by Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias. With runners on first and third and nobody out, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ball hard to Iglesias’ right. He somehow snagged the ball on one knee and was able to start a double-play. The Indians scored a run, but Iglesias killed the rally.
Manager Terry Francona called it “an unbelievable play” and “one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.”
The Tigers lose Jhonny Peralta to suspension in the Biogenesis affair, but go out and acquire one of the best young defensive shortstops in the game.
“We just go to keep battling, got to keep grinding,” Swisher said. “We don’t have a choice. We’re not going to lose focus on what we’re doing. We’re going to go out and give everything we got and whatever is going to happen is going to happen.”
Twice the Indians had chances to get in the game, but came up short. They left seven on base and were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. In the sixth, with the bases loaded and after Al Albuquerque had already walked in a run, Yan Gomes swung at a ball that would have made the count 3-and-1, then grounded weakly to third.
In the seventh, Bourn and Swisher were on second and third with two out when Jason Kipnis grounded weakly to second on the first pitch.
“We’re not coming up with the big hit,” Francona said. “Tonight we got some things going. We couldn’t finish it.”
It’s not a matter of lack of effort, or lack of heart, or not caring. The Indians just aren’t getting the job done — and they know it’s not the time to have that happen.
“You have to beat good teams, man,” Bourn said. “You have to beat good teams.”
He added the team still has a positive attitude.
“This ain’t over,” Swisher said. “It’s not over. We just got to keep battling and grinding until the last out of the season and see what happens.