CLEVELAND — It was one loss that felt like a lot more.
And in the course of blowing a ninth-inning lead in the opener of a four-game series to the Tigers, Chris Perez again put himself in the crosshairs of the anger of Indians fans.
Since returning from the disabled list June 27, Perez had pitched in 18 games with an ERA of 0.95. He had 11 saves in 11 chances, and though he walked a fine line Saturday against Miami he had allowed just one run in his last 11 outings.
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In the life of a closer, things change in a hurry.
And Perez’s fortunes changed drastically Monday night as he cost Corey Kluber a much-deserved win by giving up four runs in the top of the ninth while getting nobody out. The biggest hit was Alex Avila’s three-run opposite field home run, which came on a 1-0 pitch after Perez had given up a double and single and walked two.
Suddenly a very energetic game that Michael Bourn said was played in a playoff atmosphere went from an exciting first-game-of-the-series win to a serious downer of a loss.
“We got to win those games,” Bourn said. “That’s how I look at it. That’s how I see it. That’s a tough team over there, granted. I do get that. But that’s a swing game.”
Because Detroit is the team the Indians are chasing, and because if the Indians hope to beat the Tigers at some point they’re going to have to beat them. Instead of climbing to two games back of the Tigers, they fell to four behind.
“If you want to be at the top you got to be able to knock them off,” Bourn said. “You can’t depend on whoever it is out there to knock them off and then think you’re going to win the division. We got to do it ourselves. That’s the only to do it. It’s not an easy task, but it can be done. You got to knock them off.”
Why was Bourn talking, you might wonder?
Because at some point after his June arrest for having marijuana delivered to his dog at his house in Rocky River, Perez stopped talking to the local media. Well, any media. When a Detroit TV type asked Perez pregame if Perez had a minute, he blurted out an abrupt “no” and walked past.
In past years, Perez stood up after wins and losses and addressed the situation. Not Monday. And though no player said it out loud on Monday, it’s generally not well received when one guy bolts and leaves others to talk about his mistakes.
Which is what happened.
How it happened is another question.
Clearly Perez didn’t have it, but manager Terry Francona believes in the closer system, and trusts his closer — he builds confidence with his trust. Francona said pregame if he has a closer it shortens the game. He also said the guy in the ninth might falter now and then. But he also admitted how exciting this series would be, and even though two months of the season remained he felt it was an exciting chance for his team.
Kluber responded, pitching seven-and-one-third shutout innings as the Indians — especially Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley — made several excellent defensive plays. Joe Smith got two outs in the eighth before Francona followed the formula with Perez in the ninth.
But even though Perez struggled Francona said he would not have made a move until the game was tied.
“Because he hadn’t thrown a ton of pitches, and if you start that you’re going to get a revolving door going that’s going to create a mess,” Francona said, adding: “He’s shown the ability to wiggle out of those (situations) a lot of times.”
There is talk of Perez losing velocity, and Monday would have been Perez’s third save in three days, not something he’s done often but something he has done four times in his career. Three of those occasions were last season, once against the Tigers. Too, the Indians had only lost one game this season before Monday when they had led after eight innings (they’re now 51-2).
But instead of enjoying what would have been an uplifting, well-played win, the Indians lamented losing for the 10th time in 11 games against Detroit.
Because of one lousy inning.
“This one was a tough one,” Bourn said. “I think it’s one of the toughest ones of the year. We’ll see how we respond. It’ll show what kind of team we are.”