Missed chances doom Tribe

Missed chances doom Tribe vs. Crew

CLEVELAND -- When your starter goes just five innings and your offense goes 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position while stranding 12 runners, you're flirting with trouble.

Trouble responded to the Indians' flirtations, and the pair rode off together in a 7-5 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

It was a loss that demonstrated the demons that can lie behind face value.

Sure, starter Jeremy Sowers once again limited the damage against him, allowing three runs over five innings. But his need to use 99 pitches -- including 25 in the fourth inning and 34 in the fifth -- to do so put a burden on the bullpen.

"When you throw 100 pitches through five innings," Sowers said, "runs scored or no runs scored, the hitters have done their job."

And sure, the Indians rank among the American League leaders in runs scored this season. But too often they have a game like this one, in which they don't do much -- if anything -- in the clutch.

"We need to continue to do a better job to capitalize," manager Eric Wedge said, "and be more consistent putting up runs throughout the course of the ballgame when opportunities come up for us."

Like the opportunity that arose in the fifth -- an inning that would serve to sum up this ballgame. Sowers gave up a pair in the top of the inning. He surrendered singles to Mat Gamel and J.J. Hardy and a walk to Jason Kendall to load the bases, setting up an RBI fielder's choice from Casey McGehee and a sacrifice fly from Bill Hall.

Those runs gave the Brewers a 3-2 lead -- their first lead of the ballgame. And the Indians had a perfect chance to erase the deficit and take the game over again in the bottom of the inning.

Yovani Gallardo had joined Sowers in working up his pitch count in a hurry, and he, too, was in danger in the fifth. Victor Martinez and Shin-Soo Choo opened the inning with singles, and one out later, Travis Hafner drew an intentional walk to load the bases.

It fell apart for the Tribe. Chris Gimenez drew a 1-2 count, then went down swinging when Gallardo dropped a hammer in the form of an 82-mph curveball. And the struggling Ben Francisco, in a 5-for-47 (.106) funk, grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning.

Did the inability to land the big hit, much like the late-inning walks in Monday's loss, become contagious?

"Not necessarily," Hafner said. "Every at-bat is different. If you're 0-for-10, all that matters is your next at-bats. The starter tonight had really good stuff. He was pretty tough. It was one of those nights."

But the Indians' rough night continued after Gallardo left.

After the two clubs traded runs in the sixth to make it 4-3, the Indians once again were in a position to tie the game or take the lead in the seventh. Choo doubled off Todd Coffey and Hafner drew a one-out intentional walk, but pinch-hitter Jamey Carroll struck out looking and Francisco popped out.

Wedge found the stranded runners vexing, and he was equally vexed by the start turned in by Sowers, whose success at this level continues to be part of a mixed bag.

"He just needs to be more efficient," Wedge said, "so he can last deep into the ballgame. Ideally, you want your starters to get to the seventh to set up your bullpen."

While Sowers has been strong the first two times through opposing lineups lately, he admitted he's found himself trying too hard to make a perfect pitch in situations like the ones he found himself in this loss.

"Sometimes it seemed like the game just sort of paused, where each pitch was maybe overemphasized," Sowers said. "Perhaps my rhythm needs to be better to produce quicker outs."

Sowers forced Wedge to go to the bullpen in the middle innings, with rough results.

Long reliever Jensen Lewis gave up that run in the sixth, worked a perfect seventh, then folded in an eighth inning in which the game got away from the Tribe. Lewis walked Prince Fielder to open the inning and gave up an RBI triple to Mike Cameron with one out. After an intentional walk to Gamel, Lewis allowed a two-run single to Jason Kendall to make it 7-3 and seal this one in the Brewers' favor. Hafner's two-run homer off Carlos Villanueva in the ninth was of no consequence.

Wedge didn't harp on Lewis' outing. The bullpen had taken enough abuse a night earlier.

No, this loss was really more about all that had come before the eighth. An inefficient start and an ineffective approach in the clutch spelled doom for a Tribe team whose streak of winning three straight series has come to a close.

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