Costly errors spoil Kazmir's solid outing
Lefty gives up two hits, two unearned runs in six frames
MINNEAPOLIS -- The top of the sixth inning is a perfect snapshot of the Indians' Friday night. Following a lineout to Twins reliever Brian Duensing, Lonnie Chisenhall softly flipped his bat in the air in frustration.
When Chisenhall reached out to grab the spinning piece of lumber, he fumbled and the bat struck him in the face. That is how things went for the Indians at Target Field, where the club limped to a sloppy 3-2 loss to the Twins in the opener of the season's second half.
Cleveland struggled to get much of anything going in the batter's box and did not fare much better in the field, committing a pair of errors that directly contributed to Minnesota's offensive output. The combination of missteps halted the Tribe's modest four-game winning streak and spoiled a solid effort from left-hander Scott Kazmir.
"In a game like that," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "you don't want to ever give them extra opportunities. It came back to haunt us."
At least the Indians (51-45) can quickly turn the page, knowing they did not lose any ground in the standings. The American League Central-leading Tigers also lost on Friday night, keeping second-place Cleveland's deficit at just 1 1/2 games.
The breaking point to Cleveland's blunder-filled loss came in the eighth inning.
With the score caught in a deadlock at 2, Indians setup man Joe Smith allowed a leadoff single to Pedro Florimon. Brian Dozier then chopped a pitch from Smith into the ground and in the direction of a charging Chisenhall. The third baseman snared the ball and fired to first baseman Nick Swisher, who appeared to close his glove too soon, missing the catch for a costly error.
Smith -- a groundball specialist -- did what he could to overcome the ill-timed gaffe by inducing a double play off the bat of Trevor Plouffe. Florimon sprinted to third base on the play, setting the stage for a two-out confrontation between Smith and Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Smith needed just one out to escape unscathed.
Easier said than done.
"I don't think you're almost out of an inning when you've got Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau coming up," Smith said. "I knew it was going to be a tough out to get."
While Mauer prepared to hit, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway headed to the mound for a meeting to go over the situation. Francona said putting Mauer on first with an intentional walk was not considered.
"No," said the manager. "You'd have first and third, and the guy at third can fly. So how do you defend that? They can do a lot of things. If you want to hold Mauer at first, you have the hole open."
Smith said he was instructed not to give Mauer anything to hit, but the sidearmer wanted to go for an inning-ending strikeout once he worked ahead in the count.
"They told me, 'Hey, kind of pitch around him here,'" Smith said. "Once I got ahead of him, 1-2, my approach changed. I was going for the punchout. I wanted to get out of the inning. He got me."
Smith spun a slider, which he wanted to bury far inside. The breaking ball caught too much of the plate, and Mauer did what he has done to plenty of pitchers over the years. The catcher yanked the pitch up the middle for a base hit, scoring Florimon easily and putting the Tribe behind for good.
"They went after Joe," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Like he can do, he came up with a big one for us."
That put the finishing touch on a rough night at the office for the Indians.
Kazmir admitted that he felt "rusty," but the left-hander still held the Twins (40-53) to a pair of unearned runs on just two hits in his six innings on the mound. Minnesota's only production against Kazmir came in the sixth inning, when Chisenhall mishandled a grounder to his left for an error. That paved the way for a two-run, two-out single from Plouffe that knotted the score at 2.
"I was able to get quick outs and got into the sixth inning," said Kazmir, who has a 1.95 ERA across his past six turns for the Tribe. "A couple little hiccups cost me a couple runs. It cost us throughout the whole game. It was tough."
The hiccup in the sixth also effectively erased the two-run double that Michael Bourn collected against Twins starter Mike Pelfrey, who pitched into the sixth and navigated his way around four hits, three walks and one hit batsmen. Pelfrey and the Twins' bullpen combined to hold Cleveland's Nos. 2-4 hitters (Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Swisher) to an 0-for-11 showing.
That is just the kind of night it was for Cleveland.
"Kaz pitched so well," Chisenhall said. "He's been throwing the ball awesome, and he deserved to win that game. ... When you give guys extra outs, they turn them into runs."