NEW YORK -- The five-and-fly that has become all too commonplace for Indians starting pitchers came back to bite the Tribe on Friday afternoon. And the five fly balls that cleared the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium didn't help much, either. Starter Anthony Reyes was gone after five innings, and the Tribe bullpen could not protect a late two-run lead in a 6-5 loss that evened the four-game series with the Yanks. It was Derek Jeter's solo shot off Jensen Lewis in the bottom of the eighth that made the difference on this day, and it's the inefficiency of the Indians' starting staff that's putting a strain on the 'pen on most days.
"It starts with the starting pitching for us," manager Eric Wedge said. "When you're only getting five innings per outing, there's not a bullpen out there that can survive that." Tribe starters have worked into the sixth inning only four times in 11 games this season. It's the Indians' greatest preseason concern come to life, especially in the midst of a stretch of 12 games in 12 days. Early on in this one, it appeared Reyes would have little trouble going deep. But his outing began to unravel when the Yankees began going deep. In the third inning, Reyes served up back-to-back solo shots to Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira, erasing the 1-0 lead handed to him by Mark DeRosa's first-inning solo blast off Joba Chamberlain. And in the fourth, the Yankees made it 3-1 on Melky Cabrera's solo homer. "They were just up," Reyes said of the pitches morphed into homers. "I was trying to throw strikes. Unfortunately, I got behind and made some bad pitches." And Reyes made too many pitches -- 91 in five innings, to be exact. The damage off him wasn't all that considerable -- he allowed three runs on five hits, walking three and striking out one -- but the Indians needed Reyes to be more efficient. The Tribe's offense certainly had Reyes' back. Because after he squandered the initial lead, the Indians' bats roared back with a run in the fourth on a Ben Francisco RBI single and three more runs in the fifth on a DeRosa RBI single, a Victor Martinez sacrifice fly and a Ryan Garko RBI double. With that, it was 5-3 going into the sixth. That's the lead the bullpen was sent out to protect and the lead it would lose. In the sixth, Robinson Cano took Zach Jackson deep. In the seventh, Vinnie Chulk walked the leadoff man, Damon, then made an errant throw to first when Teixeira sent a swinging bunt dribbler back toward the mound. The error allowed Damon to score the tying run. "That's a routine play for [Chulk]," Wedge said. "He just threw it away. Those are mistakes that can't happen." One more crippling mistake remained, and it came in the eighth, with the score tied at 5. Lewis blew through the first two batters he faced, then fell behind in the count, 3-1, to Jeter. Lewis' fifth pitch was a fastball left out over the middle, and Jeter smacked it over the right-field wall for the go-ahead homer. "Off the bat, I thought maybe it was a pop fly," Lewis said. "I didn't think he got all of it." Jeter got all of it, and that was a running trend in this one. There's an adage that solo homers can't hurt you, but it has some contingencies. "[The saying doesn't apply] when you give up five of them," Wedge said. "We've got to keep the ball in the ballpark." And the starters have to stay in the game longer. The Indians' bullpen has been laboring, and Wedge didn't seem to think any adjustments -- in the form of Triple-A callups -- are going to help matters much. "We're going to look at everything," Wedge said. "But we've already started down that road. We're going to keep reassessing it from day to day, moving forward. I think we have to, with where we're at right now." Lewis, who is now the not-so-proud possessor of a 7.11 ERA in five appearances, didn't want to use the starters as an excuse for the relief crew. "Regardless of how deep the starters go," Lewis said, "when we've got the ball, our job is to get in there and get us that win." Reyes and the relievers were both nearly bailed out in the ninth, when the Indians put two aboard with one out against Mariano Rivera. But Grady Sizemore struck out swinging, and DeRosa found himself in a 3-2 count. When Rivera's last pitch -- which, replays showed, was clearly up and away -- was a called strike three, DeRosa chewed out home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi and flipped his bat to the ground in disgust. "It's a ball," DeRosa said afterward. "It's disappointing. My concern is not making the last out. I don't care what the score is. I never want to make the last out. It's a miserable feeling." It's a feeling that was going around in the clubhouse of a 3-8 Indians team that's still waiting for all the pieces to come together.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.