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Muddled relief lets down bats in finale

Oddly, pitching lets down bats

CLEVELAND -- Eric Wedge doesn't have to look at the standings to see the disparity between his Indians and the first-place White Sox.

The standings now show the Indians are trailing the Sox by 5 1/2 games after falling, 6-5, to seal another series loss and a 2-4 homestand in front of 31,740 at Progressive Field on Wednesday afternoon.

But Wedge saw a difference in mental fortitude that was just as apparent in losses in the series opener and finale.

"That club over there is playing with a little more confidence, their veteran guys are a little bit further along and probably a little tougher than us right now," Wedge said of the Sox. "And that's the separator."

The separator in this particular game was the rough relief outing turned in by right-hander Rafael Betancourt, who let two inherited runners and a run of his own come across in the seventh, as the Sox erased a 5-3 deficit.

Betancourt was the subject of Wedge's postgame diatribe, in which he took the rare step of calling a player out in public. Wedge said Betancourt (1-3, 5.56 ERA) hasn't shown the confidence to work his fastball to both sides of the plate.

"It's nothing I haven't said to him or [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] hasn't said to him 100 times," Wedge said. "Until he has enough trust and passion about throwing the ball inside, they're going to keep continuing to hit it."

Betancourt, who dominated in the setup role last season but has shown no consistency in '08, said the topic wouldn't have even come up had he not made a bad pitch to A.J. Pierzynski in what turned out to be the game-tying double.

But Betancourt did admit he hasn't acted on Wedge's advice.

"They told me to do something, I didn't do it, and we lost the game," Betancourt said. "That's the bad part."

The Indians were in a position to win this game because of the offense's early work against Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd.

The bats gave starter Jake Westbrook -- making his return to the rotation after missing five weeks with a strained muscle in his left side -- an early 2-0 lead in the first, when Grady Sizemore scored from third on a Floyd throwing error and Victor Martinez knocked in a run with a single up the middle.

Westbrook was sharp early but began to lose effectiveness in the fourth, when Jermaine Dye ripped a solo homer to left. The Sox took the lead against Westbrook after loading the bases in the fifth. Pierzynski knocked in a run by grounding out to first, and Carlos Quentin added a sacrifice fly to give the Sox a 3-2 lead.

The fifth was Westbrook's final inning of work. He needed 92 pitches to get through the abbreviated affair.

"I wasn't as sharp as I'd like to be," he said. "I felt good early on and erratic late. I put us in a bad spot."

The Tribe, though, got out of that spot and regained the lead with three runs in the sixth. David Dellucci doubled home Martinez, and Jhonny Peralta smacked a two-run shot to the left-field bleachers to make it 5-3.

That lead wasn't safe in Betancourt's hands.

Two runners were aboard when Rafael Perez handed things over to Betancourt in the seventh. Betancourt served up consecutive doubles to Pierzynski and Quentin, and three runs came home to make it 6-5.

Betancourt wished he could reconsider the up-and-away pitch to Pierzynski, who ripped his double to the opposite field in left. So did Wedge.

"That ball was probably four or five inches off the plate with two strikes," Wedge said. "Granted, it was up a little bit, but [Pierzynski] leaned out over punched it the other way. We've seen right-handers do it to [Betancourt] and left-handers do it to him."

Betancourt did not disagree.

"All I have to do is do my job," he said. "If they want me to pitch inside, I have to do it."

Betancourt was calm in talking to reporters after the loss, but his angry scream could be heard from the showers after he walked out of the locker room.

That emotional outburst was more powerful than anything the Indians' bats mustered late. They had the tying run on second with one out against Octavio Dotel in the seventh and came up empty. And they had the tying and winning runs in scoring position with one out in the ninth before Bobby Jenks got Ben Francisco and Martinez to pop out in succession.

"We didn't make pitches when we needed to make pitches, and we didn't swing the bat like we need to swing the bat when it was on the line," Wedge said. "I look at this series as three hard-fought games. It could have been a situation where we took two out of three, or did better than that."

Instead, the Indians head off to an 11-game road trip to Kansas City, Texas and Detroit with the standings looking all the more significant, and with their confidence in question.

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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