Indians drop South Side finale

Indians drop South Side finale

CHICAGO -- For much of the Indians' run of 23 games in 23 days, the Tribe, to its credit, didn't look like a team in the midst of playing 23 games in 23 days.

But that wasn't the case when the Indians reached the finish line of their marathon run Wednesday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.

The offense labored against Javier Vazquez, starter Jake Westbrook couldn't prevent the damage set up by an untimely fielding error and the Indians fell, 7-4, to the White Sox.

Perhaps the fatigue of the absence of off-days -- caused by the makeup of one of the April snowouts against the Mariners -- finally caught up with the club. Regardless, this loss would have stung quite a bit more had the Indians not gone 17-6 in the 23-day span and won seven games on this pivotal 10-game road trip.

"We played about as well as you could hope for," Casey Blake said. "We would have liked to go 23-0, but you know that's not going to happen."

Little happened in the Indians' favor on this day.

Be it through Josh Barfield's costly error, Jim Thome's decisive broken-bat base hit or Paul Konerko's controversial seventh-inning home run, the fates would not allow a sweep of the Sox.

"You can't dwell on it too long," said Westbrook, who was touched for five runs over six innings. "There's going to be days like this. You can't do anything about it."

Indians pitchers couldn't do anything to stop Juan Uribe the past two days. He hit his third homer in two games when he launched a second-inning solo shot to the seats in right-center field to tie the game up at 1.

In the fourth, Westbrook became the victim of Thome's 499th career home run when he left a 2-0 fastball over the middle of the plate. Thome smacked it out to right for a solo homer that gave the Sox the lead.

Home runs aside, this game was truly lost in the fifth.

Westbrook had let two on with one out when he got Josh Fields to hit into what appeared to be an inning-ending double-play ball at second. But a rusty Barfield, getting a start for just the third time in the past month, booted the grounder and couldn't recover in time to get one out, let alone two.

"The ball was hit hard," manager Eric Wedge said. "I didn't see the replay on it, but I'm sure he thinks it's a play he should have made. He was just a little tardy on it."

The Sox loaded the bases on the play, with the meat of the order coming up. Westbrook should have been out of the inning. Instead, he had to face Thome, who muscled a broken-bat single down the first-base line to bring two runs home, making it 4-1.

And Westbrook's trouble didn't end there, as Konerko lined an RBI single to left to score Fields.

Did the error rattle Westbrook?

"No, that happens," he said. "It's my job to get the next guy. I didn't do that, and I didn't even get the next guy after that. I need to do a better job picking up my teammates."

But Westbrook's teammates couldn't pick him up, either. At the plate, they were kept in check by Vazquez, who allowed just a pair of runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out nine batters in that span, including six in a row between the fourth and sixth innings.

"He was throwing 94 [mph] today, which always helps," said Blake, whose RBI double in the seventh was the Tribe's last tally off Vazquez. "He was spotting his fastball, and he has a curveball that's really slow. When he locates, he's tough. Add 93 or 94 on top of that, and he's really tough."

The Tribe's tough-luck day continued in the seventh, with Cliff Lee on the mound in his second relief appearance since his recall from Triple-A Buffalo.

With one on and two out, Konerko smacked Lee's 2-2 pitch toward the left-field foul pole. Replays would show that the ball hooked just left of the pole, without touching it. Nonetheless, third-base umpire Rob Drake ruled it a two-run homer that put this game on ice.

Both Blake at third and Kenny Lofton in left said the ball was foul -- no ifs, ands or buts about it.

"Not by much, but it was foul," Blake said. "Rob Drake's a good umpire, but he's not going to get them all right. I could tell it was foul. I don't know what he was looking at. But he was good about it. A lot of umpires will be real proud and say, 'No, that was a home run.' But he was just like, 'I'll check [with the other umps].'"

The homer had no chance of being overturned, of course, so hope of an Indians comeback was dashed by that blast.

Yet this day, for all its negatives, came with the inherent positive of being the day the Indians returned home from the road, with Thursday's long-awaited off-day looming.

When the makeup games with Seattle were set, this 23-day stretch was viewed as a potential backbreaker for this club. Instead, it was a stretch in which the Indians fortified their position atop the American League Central standings.

"I think we did a great job," Westbrook said. "We had a great homestand and a great road trip. We were winning ballgames, and there's no better time to do that than right now."

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