CLEVELAND -- The boos cascaded down upon him, and Cliff Lee tipped his cap to the crowd as he strode toward the Indians' dugout. This was the bitter end of another disappointing start for Lee. The question now, in the wake of the Indians' 14-9 loss to the Red Sox at Jacobs Field on Thursday night, is whether it was the end of Lee's days in the Tribe rotation.
When it came to the prospect of Lee, who is 0-4 with a 11.00 ERA over his last four outings, making his next start, manager Eric Wedge hardly gave the left-hander a ringing endorsement. "We haven't had any time to think about it or any time to talk about it," Wedge said. "I'm sure we're going to talk about this after you guys [reporters] leave." Wedge also declined to talk about Lee's cap-tipping gesture toward the home crowd, which booed him heartily as he came out of the game in the middle of a five-run Red Sox fifth inning. "I did not [see that]," he said. "I haven't heard a word about it or talked to anybody about it." Lee (5-8, 6.38 ERA) denied making the mocking gesture intentionally. "I just took my hat off," Lee said. "I wasn't trying to show anybody up." What Lee definitively was trying to do in this start was pick up where he'd left off in a dramatically inconsistent outing in Texas last Saturday. He gave up five first-inning runs in that game but took a more aggressive approach to his pitch selection and delivery from that point on. He gave up two runs over his final 5 2/3 innings of work, and Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis said that was the Lee they'd hoped to see on this night. For one inning they got what they wanted, as Lee retired the top of the Red Sox lineup in order. And then, in the second, it was back to the battering. Leading off the second, Manny Ramirez hit a home run 481 feet to dead center that landed not far from where Ramirez is honored in Heritage Park, along with the rest of the 100 greatest Indians. It was the third-longest homer in Jacobs Field history, and it gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. In the third, Boston snuck another run across when Dustin Pedroia grounded into a double play with runners on the corners, scoring Wily Mo Pena from third. But the real damage came in the fifth, after the Indians got on the board with Franklin Gutierrez's solo shot off Kason Gabbard. The Red Sox put two on for Ramirez, who doubled to left to drive in a run. Jhonny Peralta's fielding error let Boston load the bases, and Mike Lowell's ensuing two-run single made it 7-1 and knocked Lee out of the ballgame, tipped cap and all. Lee had no short list of problems in this start. He too often worked behind in the count, didn't have control of his fastball and didn't have enough action on his secondary stuff. "It just seemed like every possible thing that could go against me did," he said. "I've got to figure out a way to come out of this and, hopefully, it will be in my next start." But will that next start be with the Indians? The club does, after all, have two Minor League option years remaining on Lee, who signed a three-year, $14 million contract extension last summer. But because of that multiyear deal, sending him down would be a complicated process that would involve his exposure to waivers. So that possibility isn't likely. On the other hand, the Indians could stick him in the bullpen as he sorts through his troubles. If that were the case, the club already has Triple-A left-hander Aaron Laffey, who is viewed as the next starter in line for a big-league promotion, working on the same days as Lee. Laffey would be the logical replacement, even on a temporary basis. The third -- and perhaps most likely -- option is to take advantage of Monday's off-day and skip Lee in the rotation. Lee, as one might imagine, wasn't in the mood to speculate on any of this. "That's not up to me," he said. "I have no comment on that." On this night, Lee wasn't the only one who had no answers for the Boston offense. Long man Jason Stanford relieved Lee in the fifth and let two inherited runners across. Stanford later left two men aboard when he was replaced by Tom Mastny in the seventh, and Mastny served up a monstrous three-run homer to Wily Mo Pena. By the time Ramirez went deep again -- this time with a two-run shot off Jensen Lewis in the eighth -- it was clear that the Indians' attempts to rally off Gabbard and Julian Tavarez with four-run tallies in the fifth and seventh innings would be all for naught. But as rough as the performance of the bullpen might have been in this one, it was Lee's performance that set the Tribe on the path toward defeat and set the wheels in motion for a late-night meeting of the minds in Wedge's office. "What I want is to put our team in a position to win as many games as we can in August and September and these last few days of July," Wedge said. "That's what we've worked hard to do, and that's what we're going to keep pushing for." With or without Lee.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.