CLEVELAND: The Indians were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position Sunday, and they extended their homerless streak to 11 games. So how in the world did they score four runs?
You don’t have to be an expert in manipulating a Rubik’s Cube to figure it out. The answer: The Angels committed two errors that led to three unearned runs and they left town after a 4-0 loss to the Tribe at Progressive Field.
Derek Lowe, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez combined to give up three hits and three walks. Lowe allowed all of the hits and walked two in 7‚ innings, ruining the day for Angels batsmen with sinkers and sliders that produced 13 ground ball outs and one strikeout. Three batters hit infield pop flies for outs, and two others whacked line drives directly to infielders (one turning into a double play). Only three outs were caught by outfielders.
“Lowe (4-1, 2.27 ERA) was cruising out there,’’ manager Manny Acta said. “He was terrific, and he kept his pitch count down .’’
As efficient and proficient as the Indians pitchers were, their efforts would have meant little if the Angels had not made two critical mistakes.
The first happened with one out in the fifth inning, when Aaron Cunningham beat out a single to the shortstop and Michael Brantley walked. After Ervin Santana struck out Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a routine fly ball to right. Torii Hunter tracked it off the bat, but on the downward flight of the ball, he lost it in the sun and ducked out of the way.
Cunningham scored from second and Brantley scored from first, as Cabrera reached second on the error.
“Today we got a break,’’ Acta said. “And we put ourselves in position to take advantage of a break.’’
Errors by Hunter are rare. Coming into the game, he had committed 35 errors and handled 4,520 chances during his career. That is the least number of errors in history for an outfielder with 4,500 or more chances.
“Actually, I didn’t see it,’’ said Lowe, who thought the inning was over when he saw the ball off the bat. “I’m pretty much the first guy out of the dugout. So I turned and took off my jacket [and missed the play.] Then I heard the crowd cheering, so I figured something must have happened.’’
Shelley Duncan plays left field, but he has hung out in right when the sun is shining on Progressive Field.
“This is one of the toughest sun fields in the game,’’ he said. “[Shin-Soo] Choo does a great job dealing with it out there.’’
In the time it took Lowe to twist his body away from the field then look back, he went from having to hold a 0-0 tie to being 2-0 in front.
“No, it doesn’t make any difference,’’ Lowe said of his pitching approach. “I don’t care what their record is [7-15] or what their guys are hitting. It doesn’t matter what the score is. Any time you let your mind go there [and let up], you’re going to struggle.’’
Lowe continued his mastery over the Angels until Maicer Izturis drew a walk and Chris Ianetta lined a single to right center, putting runners on first and third with two outs in the eighth.
Acta summoned Pestano to get the third out, which he did, striking out Howard Kendrick after walking Mike Trout to load the bases.
“I eliminated the empty base with the walk, so I painted myself into a corner,’’ Pestano said. “I was just trying to get ahead and put him [Kendrick] away. If he hits a ball in the gap, it might be three runs.’’
To that point in the game, the Tribe had only two runs. But in the eighth, with Ervin Santana out of the game, Travis Hafner and Carlos Santana singled against Kevin Jepsen. Jack Hannahan followed with a sacrifice bunt. Jepsen gloved it but threw the ball between the first baseman and the runner, the ball rolling into foul territory for another lethal error.
Jason Donald, running for Hafner, scored from second, leaving runners on first and third. Duncan’s sacrifice fly scored Santana with the fourth run.
Even though it wasn’t a save situation, closer Chris Perez worked the ninth, retiring the side in order and striking out two. Why Perez? He hadn’t pitched since Tuesday.
Ervin Santana (0-5, 5.58 ERA) matched Lowe for seven innings but didn’t get the support from his defense. He gave up seven hits and two walks and continued his mostly bad luck against the Indians. For his career, Santana is 1-7 with a 3.86 earned-run average. His only win against Cleveland was a no hitter last July 27.
“It was a very good series,’’ Acta said. “Any time you can take two out of three with the staff they have, it’s big, especially the way we’re hitting.’’
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.