BOSTON: Indians fans have become accustomed to strapping on their seat belts whenever wild, albeit usually effective closer Chris Perez is called upon to take the mound looking to nail down a win.
But Perez’s wildness Sunday at Fenway Park wasn’t the Tribe’s only problem as the Red Sox nearly batted around to make up a three-run deficit and earn a 6-5 walk-off victory in the final game of the four-game series.
Before Boston’s fatal blow on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s bases-loaded, two-run double, Perez doubled over in obvious pain after a pitch in the middle of Ellsbury’s at-bat.
Concerned, Indians manager Terry Francona jogged out to the mound and the team’s trainer joined him as they quickly asked Perez if he was alright.
Perez said he was, but they asked him to prove it with a practice pitch. When the ball sailed wide of catcher Carlos Santana, Perez was escorted off the field and right-fielder Joe Smith was called on to replace him.
Smith threw some in the bullpen before adding a couple of practice throws on the mound. But Ellsbury jumped all over his first official pitch and laced a double into the center field gap to seal the comeback. By the time he’d made it to second base, Ellsbury was mobbed by his teammates who’d streamed out of the dugout in celebration.
“On the 1-1 pitch, [Perez] felt like a pinch [in his shoulder],” Francona said. “So we went out to check him. He wanted to keep pitching, but we said ‘let’s throw one or two.’ And when he did, he felt it. So we got him out of there to bring in Smitty. That’s a difficult situation and you saw the results.”
The results before Perez felt any pain weren’t pretty, either. Although he entered the ninth inning with a comfortable 5-2 lead, he promptly dug himself in trouble.
Perez began the fatal inning with a walk to Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz followed with a double that sent Pedroia to third before a groundout by Mike Napoli scored him and cut the deficit to two runs.
With the Indians defense shifted to the right for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ortiz lumbered to third for just his second stolen base of the season to get into scoring position. It proved to be a head’s-up move by Big Papi as Saltalamacchia’s grounder brought him home to make it a one-run game at 5-4.
But even with two outs and the bases empty, Perez couldn’t settle down enough to get the last out and squelch the Boston rally. Instead, he loaded the bases with a walk to Jonny Gomes, a single to left field by Stephen Drew and issued his third walk to Jose Iglesias. Perez then reached a 2-1 count on Ellsbury before noticeably wincing in pain.
“I felt a little something in the shoulder out there,” said Perez, who missed time in spring training while sidelined with a right shoulder injury and earlier this month sat out for six days with shoulder discomfort. “Obviously not the best timing there. But it’s something I have to deal with.”
Perez admitted he “felt a little stiff” warming up in the bullpen, but didn’t think much of it.
“I hadn’t pitched in a week or so, so I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary,” he reasoned.
Perez’s rough outing put a damper on a stellar outing by young Tribe right-hander Corey Kluber, who held the same Boston lineup to a run on three hits over 6⅔ innings while striking out a career-high 10 batters.
The lone Red Sox run came in the second inning when Drew led off with a double and scored on Daniel Nava’s groundout.
Meanwhile, the Indians jumped on Red Sox starter Felix Doubront right away, loading the bases with singles by Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher with just one out and five batters into the afternoon.
The Tribe came away with two unearned runs in the inning on Santana’s two-out, two-run single.
The Red Sox cut the deficit in half in the third inning, when Nava drove a ball off the Green Monster in left field for a single that scored Drew.
But the Indians got the run back in the fifth inning when Kipnis just snuck a solo home run shot inside the right field foul pole on an 0-2 count with two outs, once again giving the Tribe a two-run lead.
According to ESPN stats, Kipnis’ 319-foot homer was the shortest outside-the-park home run in major-league baseball since a 316-footer by Ty Wigginton in 2010. But the “cheap” longball was soon followed by a laser shot by Swisher, whose solo shot flew over the Monster to increase the Tribe’s lead to 4-1 in the sixth inning.
The Indians added an insurance run in the eighth inning on a Swisher sacrifice fly.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.