TORONTO -- The losses have piled up so frequently for the Indians this season that two cornerstone players, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, have become the subject of rampant trade buzz in these waning days before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But whatever the future holds for Lee and Martinez, they were instrumental, in the present tense, in stopping the Tribe's latest losing skid Tuesday night at Rogers Centre. Martinez broke out of a monthlong slump with a two-run double in the ninth to save Lee from a 10th loss he most certainly did not deserve and give the Tribe a 2-1 victory in the series opener against the Jays.
"It's always a great feeling when you do your job," Martinez said. "It's always great when you win a game, especially for the guy on the mound for us." That guy, of course, would be Lee. How much longer he'll be on the mound for this team is a decision in the hands of the Tribe's front-office decision-makers, who are no doubt weighing offers for Lee -- who is signed through 2010 -- from contending clubs. Several of those clubs, including the Phillies and Dodgers, had scouts in the house to watch Lee's latest effort, and they likely walked away impressed after the left-hander's third complete game of the season. Lee held the Jays to three hits over the game's first six innings. He didn't falter until the seventh, when he hung a first-pitch four-seamer to Scott Rolen, who pounded the pitch over the center-field wall. Other than that, it was business as usual for Lee, whose 6-9 record is no indication of how well he's pitched in this follow-up to last year's American League Cy Young success. "Basically, I was locating fastballs and getting ahead in the count," Lee said. "They were swinging the bat early in the count, and I was getting quick outs." When the Indians were up to bat against rookie left-hander Brett Cecil, the innings were a little longer. But the end result was the same. Conforming with a troubling trend that has hounded Lee all season, the Indians didn't do much to support their ace at the plate. They stranded nine runners -- just three short of the maximum possible -- in the game's first four innings. The Indians couldn't bring home Asdrubal Cabrera after his one-out triple off Cecil in the first. They couldn't score Ben Francisco after his one-out double in the second. They couldn't capitalize on a bases-loaded situation with two out in the third. Nor could they take advantage when the bases were again loaded -- this time with one out -- in the fourth. By the time the Tribe left two men in scoring position in the seventh, the lack of clutch hitting had become an epidemic. "We really made it hard on ourselves offensively," manager Eric Wedge said. "You have to push two or three runs across, at the very least. We didn't do a good job with two outs and runners in scoring position. Those first four innings, you feel like it's going to come back to bite you, and it nearly did." A costly error from first baseman Lyle Overbay bailed the Tribe out in the ninth. The ninth began when pinch-hitter Ryan Garko legged out an infield single off Toronto closer Scott Downs. Garko was replaced by pinch-runner Luis Valbuena. Grady Sizemore put down a sacrifice bunt toward first in an attempt to move Valbuena over, and Overbay fielded the ball and fired to second to try to retire the runner. Instead, Overbay's throw sailed into the outfield. Valbuena advanced to third and Sizemore to second. Just like that, the Indians had a pair of runners in scoring position, and this time they would actually take advantage of it. Downs intentionally walked Cabrera to load the bases, and he got Shin-Soo Choo to ground into a fielder's choice out at the plate. When Downs had Martinez in a two-strike count, it appeared the Indians might squander this opportunity, as well. But Martinez, who entered the game in a 9-for-83 funk, ripped Downs' 0-2 offering down the left-field line for the game-changing, two-run double. It was his second double of the evening and perhaps a sign that his slump is waning. "That was the difference for us," Lee said. "That was a huge hit for us." The only question was whether the hit would hold up. But Lee, who had 100 pitches after eight innings, was sent out to protect it in the bottom of the ninth, and he had little trouble locking down the win. "He's definitely the guy you want to send out there," Wedge said. "That's where he's at and who he is." Perhaps, for Lee, this was an audition for the contenders. Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi announced earlier in the day that his ace, Roy Halladay, is "unlikely" to be dealt before the July 31 Trade Deadline, so Lee's stock could rise higher in the coming days. And Martinez is also considered an attractive trading chip, if the Indians are so inclined. In the meantime, the business at hand was stopping the Tribe's three-game losing skid. And Lee and Martinez, with an Overbay assist, pulled it off.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.