While the sky shined a beautifully overhead on a nice May afternoon, the Cleveland Indians’ season may have reached its darkest point.
Cleveland was embarrassed Sunday afternoon by the Oakland Athletics, 13-3, courtesy of 12 hits and nine walks. Ace Justin Masterson allowed seven runs in less than five innings and the defense allowed two more errors and a past ball. Journeyman Jesse Chavez pitched a decent five innings to earn the victory for Oakland and benefit from the offensive outburst. The dismal weekend leaves the Tribe just a half game better than Tampa Bay for the second worst record in the American League.
The Indians drew first blood for the second time in the series with a solo home run in the first inning. Michael Bourn started the bottom of the first frame with his first home run of the season, into the Indians bullpen. The homer staked the Tribe to a 1-0 lead over Chavez and the Athletics before the Indians registered an out.
But the lead was short-lived, as the Athletics responded with a run of their own in the top of the second inning. Brandon Moss started the second inning with a triple off the center field wall. Bourn bobbled the ball trying to corral it, and Moss strolled in to third base easily. He was able to trot home, even easier, when Yoenis Cespedes reached on a throwing error by Lonnie Chisenhall at third base. Chisenhall’s fourth error of the season sailed over Nick Swisher’s head and the Athletics easily tied the game at one.
The Tribe had a chance to re-take the lead in the third inning. Singles by Michael Brantley and David Murphy put a pair of baserunners on with just one out. However, Swisher struck out and Carlos Santana popped out to shortstop behind the bag. Swisher and Santana were dropped to sixth and seventh in the batting order, respectively. The two are in terrible slumps over the first two months of the season.
Oakland took advantage of the opportunity and tallied a pair of runs to take the lead in the fourth inning. Masterson walked Josh Donaldson and Moss to start the inning, and after getting Cespedes to pop out, John Jaso doubled to left to plate a run and Josh Reddick followed with a single to do the same. The back-to-back RBIs staked Oakland to a 3-1 lead that they would never look back from.
The game broke open in the top of the fifth inning when the Athletics struck for four more runs. Eric Sogard singled and Coco Crisp walked to put a pair on. After Nick Punto lined out, the Athletics rattled off three straight run-scoring hits. Donaldson singled home a run, Moss doubled another and Cespedes doubled off the center field wall to bring them both home and make it 7-1, Oakland.
Masterson (2-3) had his afternoon cut short at just four and one-third innings, allowing seven runs on seven hits and five walks, while striking out just one on just 70 pitches. Josh Outman came on to complete the inning without further damage.
Brantley got the Indians a run closer in the bottom of the fifth inning when he crushed hit eighth home run of the season. The solo homer went deep into the right field seats, landing under the mezzanine over-hang. His blast only cut the Tribe’s deficit to 7-2, however.
Chavez’s (4-1) day was complete after five innings, allowing two runs on six hits and three walks and striking out six. The reliever-turned-starter gave Oakland another solid effort. Chavez had made just two starts in his seven-year career before this season.
Outman started the sixth inning, but could not finish as the Athletics tallied two more runs—all with two outs. Punto doubled and Donaldson was intentionally walked. Each were able to advance to scoring position when a passed ball was charged to Santana and they came home on Moss’ two-run double to make it 9-2. It was Moss’ third hit and third run batted in on the day. He also walked twice, reaching base safely in all five plate appearances. Donaldson and Moss each scored four runs on the afternoon.
Jim Johnson took over for Chavez and almost let the Indians walk back into the game. Johnson hit Chisenhall, then walked Bourn and Mike Aviles to load the bases before he walked Brantley to force in a run. Athletics manager Bob Melvin was forced to summon Fernando Abad from the bullpen with two outs. Abad struck out Raburn to end the inning and keep the Indians trailing, 9-3. Cleveland could not post a big inning like Oakland had done all weekend long.
Like most times the Indians scored against the Athletics this weekend, they quickly gave it back. In the top of the seventh, Jaso started the inning with a grounder that rolled through Swisher’s legs. Swisher was charged with his sixth error of the season and the Tribe gave up their 45th unearned run of the season when Reddick doubled to right field and Jaso scored to make it 10-3.
Cody Allen did not retire a batter he faced in the top of the eighth inning and Oakland tallied three more runs, keyed by another Cespedes double. Cespedes drove in five runs in the game. Kyle Crockett finished the inning, recording his first big league strike out, setting down Reddick. Oakland’s three runs made the final tally 13-3. Crockett recorded the first out in the ninth before former closer John Axford finished the game.
Cleveland drops to 19-25 and fall to 10 games in back of the Central Division leading Detroit Tigers. The three game sweep from Oakland is the first of three straight series against first place teams. After the Tigers come to Cleveland, the Tribe will head to Baltimore next weekend. If the Tribe does not find consistency fast, their 2014 playoff hopes could be out of reach before most children finish their school year.
Now losers of four in a row, the Indians will welcome the Detroit Tigers to town on Monday evening. Cleveland will start Corey Kluber (4-3, 3.38), while Detroit will counter with left-hander Drew Smyly (2-2, 2.70).
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images