CHICAGO -- One game into an eight-game road trip the Indians are calling "make or break" for their 2008 season, it's Break 1, Make 0. That's because it was White Sox 9, Indians 7 on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field. The Indians received a rough outing from left-hander Jeremy Sowers and never fully recovered, despite the best intentions of an offense led by Jhonny Peralta's five hits. The loss placed the Indians a season-high 10 1/2 games back of the Sox in the American League Central standings and a season-high nine games under .500.
Sowers, who has hardly made the most of his opportunity in the Tribe rotation, lasted just three innings, allowing eight runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts. The trouble, as tends to be the case when Sowers (0-4, 7.53 ERA) has trouble, was a lack of command. "My command was just really, really bad," Sowers said. "I was working behind in the count, and, for whatever reason, just didn't have it. As a result, I gave up a lot of runs." And quickly. After the Indians afforded Sowers a quick 1-0 lead with Peralta's RBI double off Gavin Floyd in the top of the first, Sowers gave it back -- and then some. He struck out Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye with two on, but he served up a three-run homer to Jim Thome to make it 3-1. It was Thome's sixth homer against the Tribe this season, and it knocked the wind out of Sowers. "It's always a little bit deflating when you put yourself in a position where you can get yourself out of a serious jam and don't," Sowers said. "But that's the way baseball is. You can't take a pitch off." The game really unraveled for Sowers and the Indians in the third. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo dropped an Orlando Cabrera fly ball near the right-field line for a two-base error, and Dye drove the runner in with a single. The Sox went on to load the bases with two outs, setting up Nick Swisher's line-drive grand slam that crept over the wall and into the Chicago bullpen to make it 8-1. "It was a changeup out over the plate," Sowers said of the pitch to Swisher. "He did a good job staying on it and driving it." The grand slam was nothing new for the Indians. They have, after all, given up eight of them in just 83 games this season -- the most in the Majors. But this one was particularly crippling, because it all but sealed a defeat in the opener of a trip the Indians have made no attempt to downplay. "We were behind the eight ball early," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "When you're down, 8-1, in the third inning on the road, it can get to you if you allow it to." To the Indians' credit -- or perhaps as a result of the culpability of Floyd and the Chicago bullpen -- they didn't allow it to get to them on this night. That began with Peralta, who recently took over the cleanup spot in Wedge's lineup. After his first-inning double, Peralta added a solo homer in the fourth, a double and a run scored in the sixth, a single in the eighth and an RBI double in the ninth -- an inning in which the Indians had the tying run at the plate with two outs. "I was seeing the ball very good and trying to hit everything I can," Peralta said. "I took their breaking balls and swung at the fastballs." That the Indians were able to make a game of it also was a testament to the job Tom Mastny did in long relief. Mastny, promoted from Triple-A Buffalo, arrived to the ballpark in a cab during the third inning and was thrust into the game in the fifth. He went three innings, giving up little more than a solo shot to Swisher. "They said to be ready," Mastny said. "I didn't expect it to be that soon, but I was ready for it." Mastny's taxi-to-takeoff tale was entertaining, and Peralta's performance was impressive. But neither did anything to affect the bottom line. The Indians are at their lowest point of a season that has taken every opportunity to head in the wrong direction. Part of the problem, of late, is that Sowers has not been a successful stopgap measure in a rotation besieged by injuries to Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona. While his velocity is better than what it was at this point last year, Sowers has looked much more like the pitcher who was unable to hold his big league job in 2007 than the rookie who dominated the competition in the second half of '06. "I'd like to see him command the ball better," Wedge said. "You can't work behind, then have to come in. You just can't do that." Nor can you give up eight runs in three innings and expect anything better than the Indians' eventual fate on this night. "Unfortunately, we spoiled an opportunity to win a game," Sowers said. "I'm a little ashamed that I wasted it for them. I didn't pitch effectively enough to keep us in the game." But those are the breaks.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.