Sowers perfect early, but Tribe falls late

Sowers perfect early, but Tribe falls late

CLEVELAND -- The secret's been out on Jeremy Sowers for the better part of two seasons.

Fresh out of the Minors at the age of 23, Sowers baffled hitters in his 2006 rookie season on his way to a 7-4 record and what appeared to be a locked-down spot in the Tribe's starting rotation. Almost two years, a bloated ERA, seemingly countless trips between Cleveland and Triple-A Buffalo, 11 losses and just two wins later, Sowers became somewhat of a mystery.

But after a couple starts where he looked to have figured something out, Sowers, aside for a little bit of bad luck in the sixth inning, had all the answers Sunday at Progressive Field. Since the Twins broke a ninth-inning tie to beat the Tribe, 4-2, the game will go in the books as a no-decision for Sowers. But it will be remembered as a day Sowers flirted with perfection and, for the first time in nearly two years, had complete command on the mound.

"I consider myself a more advanced pitcher than I was two years ago," Sowers said. "There was probably some lack of scouting and luck I was able to get away with back then. Now, it's about staying one step ahead as opposed to getting away with stuff because there's hours of film on you.

"I guess there are no secrets anymore, so you just have to keep them guessing with the stuff they know you have."

Sowers kept the Twins guessing in nearly every at-bat. Two weeks removed from a start where he used 93 pitches in four innings, Sowers made it much easier on himself over eight innings of work, getting ahead early in counts to induce quick outs and not waste any time or pitches when it was time to strike someone out.

"We've been talking about Jeremy from start to start and how he continues to evolve, and you really saw him put it together today," manager Eric Wedge said. "I just felt like he was in command of the ballgame."

He took command right away, shaking off a bullpen session he called "less than spectacular," as he mowed down the first 15 Twins without appearing to break a sweat. The only real threat to Sowers' perfection at that point came in the fifth, when Jason Kubel lined a shot right into Sowers' glove.

"I was totally aware of it," Sowers said of being perfect through five innings. "It didn't really affect the way I pitched."

It didn't, really. Staked to a 1-0 advantage thanks to a Sal Fasano sacrifice fly in the second inning, Sowers let the game out of his control in the sixth.


"We've been talking about Jeremy from start to start and how he continues to evolve, and you really saw him put it together today. I just felt like he was in command of the ballgame."
-- manager Eric Wedge

Craig Monroe broke both the perfect game and no-hitter with a leadoff bloop double that fell in between first baseman Ryan Garko and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.

"You can always justify those kind of hits because you left the ball up in the zone," Sowers said. "That allows hitters to fight it off and push it out there. The ones that are tough to handle are the broken-bat ground balls, so it's not as frustrating as it might look."

After Sowers walked the next batter, a few ground balls did him in. Nick Punto's bunt single loaded the bases before the Twins knocked two runners in on groundouts, bringing Sowers from perfection to simply behind in a matter of minutes.

He rebounded in his final two innings to finish his longest start since July 28, 2006, allowing just two runs on three hits with five strikeouts.

"Statistically, it probably was my best start," Sowers said. "Everything was pretty much a clean inning and I was able to command the ball what I thought was very effectively."

Sowers left trailing, 2-1, as the Tribe offense was anything but effective on this day against Twins starter Nick Blackburn. Mustering just four hits off the right-hander, the Indians didn't offer much support until the eighth inning, when Blackburn handed the ball over to the bullpen.

Leadoff singles put runners on the corners before pinch-hitter David Dellucci drove Asdrubal Cabrera in with a loud sacrifice fly to left-center field, forcing Denard Span to range far to his right before making a running catch near his knees.

"I don't think anybody in the park thought he was going to catch it until it was in his glove," Wedge said.

The threat ended there as Sowers, now safe from a loss, handed the ball to reliever Rafael Perez to start the ninth inning with the game tied. It didn't stay tied for long, as Alexi Casilla led off with a double and slugger Justin Morneau followed with a two-out double to put the Twins ahead for good.

With right-hander Delmon Young on deck and first base open, Wedge said he had no thoughts to intentionally walk the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby champ.

"Perez is one of the best relievers in the game against lefties," Wedge said. "He just made a bad pitch right there."

Perez made another bad one to Kubel, who rapped an RBI single that gave Twins closer Joe Nathan more than enough cushion to baffle an Indians offense that has come from behind in the ninth inning just once this season.

"That's kind of the problem with being a pitcher sometimes, but I guess hitters can have great days and the team gets totally spanked," Sowers said. "At the end of the game we had a chance, and that's all you can ask for."

Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.