By Craig Gifford
The offense of the Cleveland Indians, dormant through much of the team’s first four games, finally broke out Wednesday afternoon against the Chicago White Sox. This time, however, it was the pitching that faltered as the Tribe fell to 1-4 with a 10-6 home loss.
A sparse crowd of 9,072 fans watched the Tribe close out a disappointing start-of-the-season homestand that the team will have to quickly dismiss if it is going to begin building momentum for what seemed like a promising season just one week ago.
On Wednesday, it was an atypical struggle for ace Justin Masterson and fielding errors by usually slick-fielding first baseman Casey Kotchman and third baseman Jack Hannahan that contributed to the Indians’ undoing.
Masterson did not have his A game from the start. The home team found itself in a 4-0 hole before taking one swing of the bat. A rare throwing error from Hannahan contributed to Chicago’s outburst, but Masterson surrendered three hits and was tagged with three earned runs.
Despite the early deficit, Cleveland hung trough for five innings. That was thanks, in large part, to designated hitter Travis Hafner. Hafner channeled the 2006 version of himself on Wednesday, blasting a 418 foot solo home run in the fourth and plating a pair more with a double in the fifth. The two-bagger drew the Indians to within 5-4. However, that is as close as it would get.
Chicago put the nails in the coffin with a five-run explosion in the sixth inning. Reliever Dan Wheeler came on in the start of the stanza as Masterson’s day was done after four earned runs in five innings. Wheeler did not fair even as well as the Tribe starter.
Things started well for the veteran right hander, but with one out, Gordon Beckham doubled and Alejandro De Aza hit home run to extend the White Sox lead to 7-4 after a walk, Wheeler’s day was done.
Fellow reliever Rafael Perez also fell victim to the long ball. After Adam Dunn grounded out, Paul Konerko was intentionally walked to get the force out at any base. Rather than getting that much-needed final out, A.J. Pierzynski lifted a back-breaking three bomb to right field. The 10-4 margin was too much for Cleveland to overcome.
The never-quit Tribe didn’t go down quietly. Shelley Duncan hit his first homer of the year, a two-run shot, in the seventh to get within 10-6. That was it, however, as Chicago relievers Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton kept Cleveland off the board in the final two frames, preserving Chicago’s win and pushing the White Sox over .500, at 3-2.
Despite the tough five-game home stretch, shortened by Tuesday night’s rain out, the Indians have hammered the ball at a pace not typically seen to start the year. Hafner’s fourth-inning knock gave Cleveland at least one home run in each of its first five games. It is the team’s longest such stretch to start a season since doing the same in 2001. The record for consecutive games with a long ball to open the year was set in 2006, at nine. still, that is about the only way Cleveland is getting on the board. with 14 of the team’s 20 runs scoring via the homer, it has been boom or bust in the first five games.
Following a day off Thursday, the Indians will hit the road for the first time this year. They open a nine game trip with a 4:10 start against fellow Central Division rival Kansas City. It will be the Royals’ home opener. The trip will also take Cleveland through Seattle and Oakland.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images