Tribe bats start hot, but falter in loss

Tribe bats start hot, but falter in loss

ARLINGTON -- The first few runs come as door prizes.

With the way the wind is blowing, the hard infield surface is playing and the heat is helping the ball carry, it's downright impossible not to score in Rangers Ballpark right about now.

But the Indians couldn't get past the door prize against Kevin Millwood on Thursday night. And when ace C.C. Sabathia and reliever Rafael Betancourt succumbed to the hot-hitting Rangers, the Tribe was on its way to a 9-4 loss and four-game split.

The four first-inning runs the Indians put together against Millwood, who pitched for the Tribe during the 2005 season, were a little more than a Texas tease. After that first, the veteran Millwood settled in to allow just four hits and no runs between the second and sixth innings.

"How many times did we see that when he pitched here that year?" Wedge said. "What he did is he made some adjustments. He did a better job, and we weren't able to get anything going."

The Indians finally had their offense going in the first three games of this series, when they scored 35 runs and looked to be coming out of their season-long coma.

And that success spilled into the first inning, when Victor Martinez came through with an RBI single, Jhonny Peralta knocked him home with a double and David Dellucci brought in a pair with a double of his own.

Little did Sabathia know that would be the only support he'd receive all evening.

Sabathia, though, is no stranger to insufficient support. Coming into this game, he had a 2.01 ERA over his last eight starts -- the best ERA in the American League since April 22 -- but all he had was a 3-4 record to show for it.

In this loss, however, Sabathia felt he deserved all the blame, even though his teammates, both at the plate and in the field, struggled to back him up.

"I don't think I pitched that well," Sabathia said. "I can't be frustrated by tonight's game. It's just frustrating that we're not winning, more than anything. That's all I care about, and we're not doing that."

They didn't win because Sabathia couldn't hold that 4-0 lead. He coughed most of it up in the second -- an inning that began with Sabathia plunking Milton Bradley with a fastball to the foot.

Bradley has upset some of the Indians this week with his hot-dog antics after homers and his decision to swipe second base in the seventh inning on Wednesday, when the Rangers were down 15-6. So it was asked of Sabathia if the hit by pitch was intentional. He predictably said it was not.

"[Bradley's antics don't] get under my skin, because I know him and am with him a lot," Sabathia said. "I don't know how the other guys feel in here, but I don't let it bother me. I just try to get him out. That's the best way you can shut him up."

Sabathia briefly shut down the Rangers when he got Marlon Byrd to hit into a double play in that inning.

But with Bradley on third, the inning deteriorated. Sabathia walked Gerald Laird, then gave up an RBI single to Chris Shelton and another to Ramon Vazquez. The latter hit rolled past right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who overran the ball. The error allowed an extra run to score to make it 4-3.

"I don't know what happened," Choo said of the play.

Bradley struck again, an inning later. He brought home a run with a single in the third, the lead was gone and the game was tied.

And when Michael Young hit a dribbler to short with two on and two out in the sixth and beat out Jhonny Peralta's throw to first, another run scored to give the Rangers the 5-4 lead.

Sabathia also accepted the blame for that infield single.

"If I had made a better effort on the Michael Young ball, I could have gotten to that and made a play," Sabathia said. "The game's on the line right there, and I just kind of stuck my glove out there."

But if the Indians had mustered anything off Millwood after the first, that run wouldn't have meant as much as it did. The Tribe had a big opportunity to get something going off Millwood earlier in the sixth, when they loaded the bases on singles with two out. Choo worked Millwood to a full count, then flailed at a high and outside fastball for strike three to end the threat.

"I thought it was a ball," Choo said. "But the umpire's strike zone was wide, so I thought I should swing."

That would be the Indians' last real hope in this game. In the seventh, the Rangers broke the game open when Bradley homered off Rafael Betancourt and Vazquez added a two-run triple.

Betancourt had nearly been placed on the disabled list a day earlier with tightness in his back, but Wedge didn't think the back affected his reliever on this night.

"He's still throwing the ball hard," Wedge said of Betancourt. "I think he missed some spots with his fastball, and that's where he got in trouble."

The trouble for the Indians in this game was that they were unable to get a momentum-building series victory before heading north to face the rival Tigers for another four-game set.

"We had a chance to win a four-game series against a team that's playing pretty good baseball right now," Wedge said. "We let that slip away, so that's disappointing."

At least they got the door prize.

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