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Indians lack finishing touch vs. Sox

Indians lack finishing touch

CLEVELAND -- The Indians didn't get their first hit until the fifth inning Wednesday afternoon.

The hits came rapidly after that, but none was big enough to topple the White Sox.

With a potential sweep of the Sox on the line, the Tribe could not deliver in a 4-2 loss at Progressive Field. All that was delivered was another inconsistent outing from Jeremy Sowers, a 1-for-8 mark with runners in scoring position and some comic relief in the form of a squirrel who invaded the field.

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Thus ended a 2-4 homestand in which the Indians were in every game but often struggled to find that one timely hit.

"We fought through all the ballgames on this homestand," manager Eric Wedge said. "We created multiple opportunities where one swing of the bat could have tied the game or given us the lead."

The Indians, though, never had a lead on this day, because Javier Vazquez blanked them early on and Sowers hit a wall after the fourth.

Embroiled in a pitchers' duel with Vazquez, Sowers blinked when he hung a fastball to Nick Swisher to open the fifth. Swisher propelled the ball onto the left-field home run porch to break a scoreless tie. Later in the inning, with two out and one on, Orlando Cabrera gave the Sox a 2-0 lead with an RBI double.

"I had a good slider today," Sowers said. "But it faded out in the fifth and sixth inning."

The slow fade continued when Sowers gave up a leadoff single to Jermaine Dye and a one-out, two-run homer to Alexei Ramirez in the sixth to make it 4-0.

"I ran a pitch down, but a little in," Sowers said of the Ramirez homer. "That changed the complexion of the game, especially against a team with the long-ball ability to make things happen."

The Indians believe Sowers has the ability to repeat what happened in 2006, when, as a rookie, he was one of the league's more consistent pitchers in the second half of the season.

Though Sowers has found the fastball velocity that evaded him in a unimpressive 2007 season, he hasn't been able to string together a solid stretch of successful innings, let alone outings. This start was a perfect example.

"He definitely shows us signs he can do it," Wedge said. "Ultimately, he needs to do it consistently."

That being said, Sowers deserved more help than he received.

The Indians didn't get a hit off Vazquez until the fifth, and they stranded two runners that inning.

In the sixth, they got on the board when Jhonny Peralta came through with a two-out, two-run double off the right-field wall. But that proved to be little more than a tease.

Cleveland left the bases loaded against reliever Matt Thornton in the seventh, when pinch-hitter Franklin Gutierrez flew out to center. And in the eighth, Chicago closer Bobby Jenks came on to get Ryan Garko to hit into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners.

"We've got to make sure we do a better job in those situations," Garko said. "But you don't want to make too big a deal about it, because then you start pressing."

The squirrel who came on the scene when the Sox came up to bat in the ninth wasn't a big deal, but he did elicit a chuckle out of an otherwise frustrated Tribe club.

As Wedge brought in left-hander Rich Rundles to face pinch-hitter Jim Thome, the squirrel was terrorizing the outfield. Choo, playing in right, chased the squirrel in the outfield grass, trying to direct him into the Indians' bullpen.

The squirrel would have none of it. He instead darted toward the foul territory near first base, where Garko made no attempt to corral him.

"There was no way I was going to look like an idiot chasing it around," Garko said with a smile, "like a certain member of our right field. Choo is definitely going to get some TV time for chasing the squirrel."

The squirrel also upstaged Rundles, who was making his big league debut. Rundles had to step off the mound at one point, when the squirrel ran back into fair territory. Rundles went on to walk Thome, the only batter he faced. And the squirrel, who was eventually led off the field by the grounds crew, was the only one Rundles has ever encountered on the field.

"I've never done that before," Rundles said. "That's two firsts today."

Unfortunately for the Tribe, the inability to find that big hit has been a more common occurrence.

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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