DETROIT -- The Indians' shaky setup situation caught up with them Saturday afternoon. It was not a pretty sight to see. Masa Kobayashi lost a one-run lead in the eighth and Rafael Betancourt relieved him and was completely ineffective, as the Tigers erupted for six runs to hand the Tribe an 8-4 loss at Comerica Park.
"We've got to iron out our bullpen," manager Eric Wedge said. "We need to be able to bridge that gap to get from starter to [closer Joe] Borowski at the end." That gap never looked wider than it did on this day. The Indians got the strong start they needed from left-hander Aaron Laffey, whose rotation job has never looked more secure now that Jake Westbrook's season is definitively over. Laffey has earned the right to stay in the rotation with the way he's pitched since replacing Westbrook in late April, but in this game, he was coming off his first rough outing of the season in Texas. He showed his ability to recover by holding the Tigers to a pair of runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. "I kept the ball down, and my changeup was big for me," Laffey said. "I probably threw 15-20 changeups, which is the most I've thrown in my whole career, including the Minors. It was an effective pitch for me." And that was a benefit for the Indians, who were going up against the effective pitching of veteran left-hander Kenny Rogers. Rogers limited the Tribe to five hits over seven innings, but the Indians were able to bring in three runs, thanks in large part to some porous Detroit defense, with Rogers contributing. With two on in the second inning, Franklin Gutierrez reached and a run scored when first baseman Miguel Cabrera was unable to keep his glove on the grounder that bounced his way. And when Kelly Shoppach ripped a ground-rule double to right-center field, another run came across to make it 2-0. After the Tigers tied the game on Carlos Guillen's two-run shot off Laffey in the fourth, the Indians regained the lead in the sixth. Ben Francisco singled on a bunt back to the pitcher's mound, and Rogers errantly threw the ball to first to allow Francisco to advance all the way to third. Ryan Garko knocked him in with a sacrifice fly. So it was a 3-2 lead that the Indians were trying to protect late. And with two out and a runner on second in the seventh, Laffey turned that lead over to his bullpen.
Kobayashi was just the man for the job, having held the opposition to a lone run over his last 10 2/3 innings of work. And even though he let the runner move to third on a wild pitch and walked Edgar Renteria, he was able to get the final out of the inning.
He wasn't as fortunate in the eighth. Marcus Thames ripped the first pitch Kobayashi offered in the eighth over the left-field wall to knot the score at 3.
"It wasn't a high ball," Kobayashi said through interpreter Toshi Nagahara. "It was just a fastball I tried to throw outside, but it went in. That was a mistake. I didn't want to throw that."
Nor did he want to give up a double to Magglio Ordonez, but that's just what he did. Kobayashi's day was done, and Wedge turned to Betancourt.
Betancourt, though, has been unsteady all season and especially unreliable of late. He came in having allowed 13 earned runs over his last 18 innings and had also nearly gone on the disabled list earlier in the week because of back tightness.
The Indians and Betancourt insist the right-hander is fine physically, but his command is obviously in need of a checkup. His troubles in this outing began when Cabrera ripped a single to left that could have -- and perhaps should have -- been caught by Francisco. Instead, the ball sailed over Francisco's head and off the wall to bring Ordonez in with the go-ahead run.
"I tried to react, but it was hit too hard," Francisco said. "It wasn't the sun. It was a hard-hit ball. You try and freeze on those, but the ball took off on me."
Had Betancourt been able to freeze the Tigers there, the Indians might have had a legitimate chance to stage a rally in the ninth.
But the Tigers went on to load the bases when Guillen singled and Brandon Inge was intentionally walked. Betancourt struck out Ryan Raburn to get the second out of the inning and was on the verge of getting out of the inning without further damage.
Then Renteria stepped up. He fell behind in the count, 1-2, but feasted on a fastball left out over the middle of the plate. The ball hurtled over the left-center-field wall for the game-sealing grand slam.
The missed opportunity to put away a division rival and take a commanding lead in this four-game series was a significant blow to the Tribe. And this outing certainly did nothing to help the already hurting confidence of Betancourt, who is now 1-3 with a 7.27 ERA and six homers allowed in 27 appearances.
"Never in my life have I been through this," said Betancourt, who didn't allow a run to the Tigers in 13 2/3 innings against them last season. "It's not fun. I have to find out what's wrong, because this is embarrassing."
And for the Indians, who have lost six times this season when leading after six innings -- twice when leading after seven and 10 times when tied after seven -- the setup situation has proved rather disheartening.
|"We've got to iron out our bullpen. We need to be able to bridge that gap to get from starter to [closer Joe] Borowski at the end."|
|-- manager Eric Wedge|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.