Lee's best effort goes for naught

Lee's best effort goes for naught

CLEVELAND -- Kerry Wood's job is to come into a ballgame and get three outs in a span of seconds.

Wood didn't do that on Monday night, but he did succinctly sum up the Tribe's 3-1 loss to the Red Sox at Progressive Field.

"Cliff [Lee] throws 110 pitches and holds them scoreless," Wood said. "I'm in for 12 pitches, and it's 3-0."

Yes, you could toss in a few words about Tim Wakefield's knuckleball nullification of the Tribe's bats, a mention of Eric Wedge getting tossed in the fourth inning and a brief tip of the cap to the Indians for bringing the winning run to the plate in the ninth, but Wood pretty much said it all.

The Indians have struggled all season to get to Wood. But when he was given the ball with a ninth-inning scoreless tie, the Red Sox got to him in a hurry, with Jason Bay's three-run homer on a fastball clocked at 99 mph effectively putting away the game.

"It doesn't matter how hard you throw it," Wood said. "If you miss your spot at this level, they're going to hurt you."

And with this loss, the hurting home club missed out on a chance to capitalize on a Cy Young-style effort from Lee, who went eight scoreless innings, in which he allowed five hits and nothing more. Lee has now worked a total of 22 innings over his past three starts and given up a grand total of three runs to get his season ERA under 4.00.

"I feel good with where I'm at," Lee said. "I'm locating my pitches, and I'm able to throw my offspeed pitches for strikes when I need to and balls when I need to."

But even though Lee's location has been better, his timing couldn't be worse. This was his second straight start in which he went eight strong innings, only to be outdone by a pitcher putting up a dazzling effort against the struggling Tribe bats.

Last week, it was the Royals' Brian Bannister holding the Indians scoreless on four hits for six innings. This time, it was Wakefield holding them scoreless on one hit for seven. Facing a knuckleballer like Wakefield always makes for a tough adjustment, but it proved even tougher for a Cleveland team already struggling to find its footing at the plate on this homestand.

"It throws a little wrinkle in there," first baseman Ryan Garko said.

The Indians waited out Wakefield for four walks, yet they didn't do anything with the few baserunners they had. Their best opportunity came in the sixth, when Grady Sizemore drew a leadoff walk and Shin-Soo Choo walked with two out. But Garko flew out on a fly ball that center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury ran down in the gap.

In addition to pitching himself out of that jam, Wakefield struck out five batters.

"When you see him striking guys out on balls in the zone, that's when you know he's got a good [knuckleball] going," Garko said. "If his pitches aren't in the dirt, that's when you know he's got the good one."

Lee had his good stuff going as well, even when the umpires made him put in a little overtime in the fourth. With two on and two out, Lee appeared to strike out Mike Lowell on a foul tip into the glove of catcher Kelly Shoppach, but home-plate umpire CB Bucknor ruled that the ball had bounced in the dirt first. Wedge came out to argue the call, albeit briefly.

"We left that one alone," Wedge said.

But Wedge couldn't sit idly by after what happened next. Lowell hit a bouncer down the third-base line that Mark DeRosa fielded before stepping on the bag for the third out. Third-base umpire Brian Gorman appeared to signal that the ball was fair, but Bucknor overruled him and ruled it foul to keep the at-bat alive.

"It's not [Bucknor's] call right there," Wedge said. "Even if the ball was in front of the bag, the third-base umpire was closer and had a better view of it. It was just a bad call."

Wedge told Bucknor his feelings -- presumably, in much more colorful terms -- and was ejected for the first time this season. Lee shook off the drama to get Lowell to strike out looking, but if Wedge hoped to motivate his quiet club with the ejection, it didn't work.

And so it was a scoreless tie heading into the ninth, when bench coach Jeff Datz summoned Wood.

Wood was in trouble from the get-go, walking Dustin Pedroia to open the inning, then serving up a single to David Ortiz. Wood got the hot-hitting Kevin Youkilis to fly out, but Bay took him deep on an 0-1 fastball for the three-run homer into the left-field bleachers.

If the pitch was delivered at 99 mph, it might have been sent over the wall at 199 mph.

"It was just a matter of missing my spots and then leaving a ball over the middle of the plate," Wood said. "Good hitters hit those pitches. Bad hitters hit those pitches."

The Indians managed to make it interesting by putting two on against Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, with the slumping DeRosa coming through with an RBI single. But Shoppach struck out and Ben Francisco popped out to end the threat and the game.

"I'm sure Cliff's frustrated, and we all feel it with him," Wood said. "You never want to come in and waste an outing by your ace."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.