Indians see late lead disappear

Indians see late lead disappear

CINCINNATI -- At least Masa Kobayashi had some sympathy in the clubhouse Saturday.

After all, Fausto Carmona has been in Kobayashi's shoes. He knows what it's like to have a shot at establishing yourself as the Indians' closer, only to see disaster strike.

That's what happened to Kobayashi in the Indians' 4-2 heartbreaker of a loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Entrusted with the one-run lead Carmona left behind, Kobayashi suffered his first blown save in the Majors when Adam Dunn torched him for a walk-off three-run homer in the ninth.

"It's tough," Carmona said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "I know how Masa feels, knowing that it didn't work out for him."

It was Carmona, of course, who was in this position in late July of 2006, when he took over the closing duties from Bob Wickman and blew three save opportunities in the span of the week.

Carmona recovered to become a dominant starter in '07. And in this outing, he recovered from the control issues that have plagued him much of this year. Carmona didn't walk a batter in this start, which explains how he was able to pitch into the eighth inning for the second time in as many starts and the second time this year.

"It allows him to be efficient and go deeper into the ballgame," manager Eric Wedge said. "Fausto threw a great ballgame."

It was a ballgame the Indians led 1-0 early and 2-1 late because of an outstanding performance from Ben Francisco, who went 3-for-4 with a homer and is playing himself into more and more of an everyday role in Wedge's outfield.

Francisco's one-out single in the second set up Ryan Garko's RBI double off Aaron Harang, which gave the Tribe the initial lead.

Carmona was rolling along fine with that advantage until the sixth, when he finally surrendered a double to Jerry Hairston Jr. and a two-out RBI single to former Indians second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Phillips, who always seems to rise to the occasion against his former club, did a little dance after notching that game-tying hit, but Wedge chose to ignore it.

"I don't have much to say about that," Wedge said.

Had Wedge not been so disappointed in the eventual outcome of this one, he might have had more to say about the way Carmona threw the ball. Carmona allowed just that run on four hits with four strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings, and only three of the 22 outs he recorded were of the fly-ball variety.

"That was my plan ... to keep the ball down and get ground balls," Carmona said. "Even though the game was a low-scoring game, I felt I was under control of my pitches. I was solid and I stayed behind the ball. I wasn't trying to do too much with the ball."


"I was trying to throw a strike with the two-seamer. It wasn't down."
-- Masa Kobayashi

Unfortunately, the Indians' offense, aside from Francisco, wasn't doing much at the plate. The Indians went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position a day after going 0-for-7. In this one, they left Victor Martinez stranded at third after his leadoff double in the sixth and couldn't bring in a needed insurance run with Grady Sizemore on second and two out in the ninth.

"We weren't very timely with our hits," Wedge said. "We've been doing a little bit better job, but we have not been doing a better job with runners in scoring position or runners on third base with less than two outs. That's where you really finish off innings."

Wedge, though, could take no issue with Francisco's day. In the eighth, Francisco's one-out solo shot off reliever David Weathers gave the Tribe the go-ahead with a 2-1 lead.

"I was just looking for anything up, really," Francisco said. "It was a 3-1 count, and I was looking for something to drive. He left me a fastball up in the zone."

The Indians remained up when Rafael Perez and Kobayashi combined to strand a runner Carmona left behind in the bottom of the eighth.

In the ninth, Wedge, who a day earlier had announced he is going with a closer-by-committee concept until Joe Borowski returns from the disabled list, opted to stick with Kobayashi. Considering the Japanese import had allowed just two runs over his last 14 1/3 innings of work, this seemed like an opportunity for him to seize the closer's reigns.

If such an opportunity existed, Kobayashi didn't grab it. He gave up a soft single to Joey Votto to open the inning and plunked Edwin Encarnacion with a two-seam fastball to the lower leg.

That brought up Dunn, who, surprisingly, squared to lay down a sacrifice bunt on the first two pitches thrown his way. On the first, he pulled back, and a ball was called. Dunn fouled off the second attempt.

"I was a little bit surprised," Wedge said of the bunt attempt. "But he's a good athlete. That's obviously a direction they can go."

On a 2-1 pitch, with Dunn no longer looking to bunt, Kobayashi was trying to go with a sinking fastball. But he elevated the pitch, and Dunn sent it hurtling 449 feet into the right-field seats. In fact, the ball nearly went out of the park, landing in the last row of seats.

"I was trying to throw a strike with the two-seamer," Kobayashi said through interpreter Toshi Nagahara. "It wasn't down."

As the ball sailed out, Kobayashi bent over and stared at the ground in disgust. It was a moment reminiscent of what Carmona went through in '06, and it was another kick to the gut of a Tribe team struggling to come through in the clutch, both at the plate and in the bullpen.

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