CLEVELAND -- Tomo Ohka was more than just OK in his first start for the Indians.More
Unfortunately for the Tribe, Albert Pujols was Albert Pujols, and that made all the difference in a 3-1 loss to the Cardinals at Progressive Field on Saturday.
Perhaps the two solo homers Pujols launched off Ohka in the fourth and sixth innings shouldn't have come as a surprise. He came in with pretty good numbers -- 7-for-14 with a homer, three doubles and two walks -- against Ohka. Actually, maybe that's not saying much. "[Pujols] has good numbers against a lot of people," manager Eric Wedge said. But the Tribe's number was up in this one, thanks not only to Pujols' power, but also a pair of costly baserunning gaffes. That combination served to compromise a surprisingly effective outing from Ohka. Pujols' homers were the only damage off him in seven otherwise brilliant innings in which he allowed seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts. Ohka took over the rotation spot that opened when Fausto Carmona was demoted to the rookie-level Arizona League to get straightened out, and Ohka's inclusion in the rotation is a classic example of desperate times calling for desperate measures. But in his first Major League start since June 6, 2007, when he was with the Blue Jays, Ohka looked like he belonged. "He was very efficient, he trusted his stuff," Wedge said of Ohka. "He had a nice tempo." Ohka just wishes he had those two pitches to Pujols back. The first came with one out in the fourth. Ohka hung Pujols an 0-1 slider, and Pujols propelled it 396 feet to the left-field bleachers. The next came on a fastball in an 0-1 count with one out in the sixth. Ohka tried to run it down and away, and Pujols dug it out and smacked it 435 feet, also to the bleachers. Hey, at least the bases were empty before each blast. "That's the best situation you can hope for," Wedge said. "Nobody on. That's about the best you can do." Pujols is obviously one of the most feared hitters in the game, as it is. But his numbers against Ohka are particularly profound. What makes him so tough for Ohka? "You'll have to ask that question of Pujols," he said through an interpreter. "I can't really answer that." Pujols struck out in his first at-bat against Ohka on this day, but he rebounded quite well. "That's how I go," Pujols said. "I go by my first at-bat. I don't go by video. I go by whatever he does in my at-bats. Obviously I made the adjustment after my first at-bat, and I executed my next couple of at-bats against him." The Indians, donned in their 1988 uniforms in honor of an '80s-themed weekend at the ballpark, didn't execute in many of their at-bats, and that was just as much a key to the game as anything Pujols did. They got a run in the fourth, when Jamey Carroll reached on shortstop Brendan Ryan's error and later came around to score on Victor Martinez's single off Brad Thompson. Martinez, though, ran himself out of the inning when a pitch got away from catcher Yadier Molina. Martinez tried to advance to second but was gunned out after hesitating. "He should have just kept going," Wedge said. "He needed to trust his instincts there." The Indians didn't capitalize on a golden opportunity in the seventh, when Jhonny Peralta led off with a double. Left-hander Trever Miller came on to retire Travis Hafner, and Jason Motte entered to put away Ryan Garko and Luis Valbuena. In the eighth, the Cards added an insurance run off Rafael Perez after Skip Schumaker singled and -- you guessed it -- Pujols doubled to put runners in scoring position. Perez threw a wild pitch, allowing Schumaker to score to make it 3-1. After stranding a pair in the bottom of the eighth, the Indians might have been able to get something going off Cards closer Ryan Franklin in the ninth. Josh Barfield sent a popup to shallow right, and right fielder Ryan Ludwick and Ryan, who shifted to second base in the bottom of the eighth, collided as the ball fell to the ground. Barfield, though, made too wide a turn to second, and got hung up and gunned down. "I kind of got caught in no-man's land," Barfield said. "I should have just held up at first. They always say you should be standing on second on a popup, but the ball has to be hit high enough that you can make it there." The Indians didn't make much noise when it mattered most in this game. In addition to the baserunning blunders, they were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. "I still feel like we're not as good as we can be, especially in that area," Wedge said. "We've scored a lot of runs [this season], but for us to be more consistent offensively we need to do a better job with a runner on third and less than two outs and with runners in scoring position." Here's one way the Indians figure to automatically improve: After Sunday, they won't have to face Pujols anymore.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less