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Ninth inning trouble for Tribe in loss

Ninth inning spells trouble for Tribe

CHICAGO -- Roberto Hernandez is still waiting for A.J. Pierzynski to make a better attempt to get out of the way of the fastball sent hurtling his way Wednesday afternoon.

But Pierzynski had motivation to let the pitch clip him on the right elbow. The plunking came with the prize of victory.

When Hernandez hit Pierzynski with that pitch in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and the score tied at U.S. Cellular Field, he and the Indians officially suffered their first loss of the season -- a 4-3 nail-biter that prevented the Tribe from heading home with a sweep of the Sox in hand.

In Hernandez's mind, Pierzynski could have avoided that final pitch.

"I've played long enough to know that ball wasn't that close," Hernandez said. "But with the game on the line, bases loaded, it's a free way to get a win."

Regardless of whether or not Pierzynski got a freebie, it was Tribe manager Eric Wedge who uttered the bottom line in this loss.

"We had made our mistakes," Wedge said, "prior to that point."

Yes, the Indians had.

The first mistakes were made by young left-handed starter Jeremy Sowers, who walked a career-high five batters, hit one with a pitch and saw another runner reach on an error.

Still, Sowers' troubles were far from crippling. Though he had a trail of baserunners around him seemingly at all times, he gave up just one hit and two dink-and-dunk runs -- an RBI groundout by Paul Konerko in the first and a sacrifice fly from Tadahito Iguchi in the fourth.

"Fortunately, I was able to avoid some of the potential repercussions of walking five guys," Sowers said. "But it's definitely not something you want to practice too often."

On the other hand, Sowers and the rest of the Indians starting pitchers could certainly get used to the support they received from leadoff man Grady Sizemore in this series.

For the second time in three games, Sizemore led off the ballgame with a home run -- this time off left-hander Mark Buehrle. In doing so, he became the first Indians player in club history to hit a homer in each of a season's first three games.

"He's a good hitter, first and foremost," Wedge said of Sizemore. "But he's going to hit his share of home runs. He creates energy for us at the top of that lineup."

The Indians, however, didn't do much to capitalize on that energy -- even when the Sox had to make an unexpected, early dip into their bullpen.

Buehrle came out of the game with a bruised forearm in the second, when a Ryan Garko line drive pegged him in much the same way Tribe ace C.C. Sabathia was hit in Winter Haven, Fla., last week. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was forced to call on long man Nick Masset. But in 4 2/3 innings against Masset, all the Tribe mustered was Jason Michaels' solo homer in the third.

"We didn't do a very good job against him at all," Wedge said. "I tip my cap to him. But on the flip side, we didn't do a good job of seeking out pitches to hit."

Sowers didn't give the Sox many pitches to hit, especially after they loaded the bases on him with two walks and a hit by pitch in the fourth.

And so, by the late innings, this game was tied at 2.

It became a 3-3 tie when reliever Rafael Betancourt coughed up an RBI single to Scott Podsednik in the bottom of the seventh and Michaels retaliated with an RBI double off Matt Thornton in the top of the eighth.

The Indians had what looked to be a golden opportunity to break that tie in the ninth. Closer Bobby Jenks walked pinch-hitter David Dellucci to begin the inning, putting the go-ahead run aboard. But Jhonny Peralta fouled off his attempt to bunt Dellucci over, then struck out on a curveball that ran away from him and into the dirt.

Once Josh Barfield had popped out and Andy Marte had struck out, the Indians' opportunity was long gone.

"We've got to be able to execute," Wedge said. "We need to get bunts down and do the things we worked all spring on. We'll get better, but I'm disappointed we didn't execute when we had to there."

Hernandez didn't execute, either. Called on to preserve the tie in the ninth, his outing was a mess.

It began with Jermaine Dye's leadoff single to center and continued with Joe Crede's line-drive single to left. With Iguchi at the plate, Hernandez became preoccupied with pinch-runner Rob Mackowiak at second, and his second attempt to pick Mackowiak off resulted in an errant throw into center field.

"I probably should have held it," Hernandez said. "It was a lot closer the first time than the second time. I just made a bad throw."

The result was that the Sox had two runners in scoring position with none out. Hernandez was forced to walk Iguchi to bring up Pierzynski, and the rest was misery. His 1-0 pitch was a cutter that ran too far in, and Pierzynski had contributed the easiest of game-winning RBIs.

"With the game on the line, I have to make sure I don't go so far in," said Hernandez, who pitched in all three games of this series. "But it wasn't that bad of an inside pitch, you know? But you win some, you lose some."

And the Indians, because of the mistakes of Hernandez and the mistakes that preceded him, lost one for the first time in '07.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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