With Rafael Betancourt dealt to the Rockies last week, the Tribe will be leaning on youngsters like Smith and Sipp in such situations. Consider this "Rally Monkey" result a lesson learned in that regard.
"These are the guys we need to step up for us in the seventh and eighth innings," manager Eric Wedge said.
Wedge had hoped Huff, who had already thrown 102 pitches going into the eighth, would negate the need for a reliever to bridge the gap to Kerry Wood. It was a rare length of leash afforded the rookie Huff, but he had certainly pitched well enough in the game's first seven innings to earn it.
The Indians had staked Huff to a 2-0 lead with Jhonny Peralta's sacrifice fly in the first and Ben Francisco's homer off Jered Weaver in the second. But the Angels took the lead by roughing Huff up for three runs in the third. The damage would have been worse, had Chone Figgins not been thrown out at home on a relay from Francisco to Luis Valbuena to catcher Victor Martinez when trying to score from first on an Erick Aybar double.
As troublesome as that third inning was for Huff, he used it as motivation and got locked in. Over the next four innings, he allowed just one hit with two walks while holding the Angels scoreless.
"I had to do that," Huff said. "I can't let it affect me. I've got to have a short-term memory and continue to keep the ball down and go further into the game."
And as Huff did so, his offense erased the third-inning damage. The score was knotted at 3 in the fourth, when Travis Hafner walked, moved to third on a Francisco single and scored on a Chris Gimenez sac fly. In the fifth, the hot-hitting Peralta smacked a two-out solo shot off Weaver to make it 4-3 in the Tribe's favor. Peralta has now gone deep in three straight games.
When Wedge let Huff back out for the eighth, he was counting on him to retire the switch-hitting Aybar and the left-handed-hitting Bobby Abreu. It didn't work out that way, as Aybar legged out on an infield single to short and Abreu drew a walk.
"He did a good job with the first guy," Wedge said. "It was a slow-roller and a tough play. That's their speed coming into play there."
With that, Wedge pulled Huff and turned to Smith to face right-hander Juan Rivera, who grounded an RBI single into left to bring in the tying run. Smith, though, recovered to get Mike Napoli to ground into a double play. With a runner on third and two outs, the Indians had a chance to escape the inning without further damage, and, at the least, prevent Huff from getting saddled with the loss.
In came Sipp, and the Angels sent switch-hitting Maicer Izturis to the plate as a pinch-hitter. He drew a walk. Likewise for the switch-hitting Kendry Morales. And so the switch-hitting Gary Matthews Jr. stepped up with the bases loaded.
Sipp had been even more effective against right-handed hitters (.150 average against) than lefties (.167) coming into the game, so his struggle in this situation, it would appear, had less to do with the matchups and more to do with his inability to command his pitches.
"He was erratic," Wedge said.
And when Sipp left a fastball over the middle for Matthews, it was pounded to the gap in left-center field for the bases-clearing double that put the Angels ahead for good, 7-4.
Sipp said he didn't treat the setup situation differently than any other outing.
"It's the same game out there," he said. "You've got to bear down a little more. I put myself in a situation for failure."
In the ninth, the Indians once again put themselves in a position to win the game against Fuentes, who blew the save on Monday night. The Tribe scored a run and loaded the bases with Andy Marte's walk, Asdrubal Cabrera's double, pinch-hitter Jamey Carroll's RBI single and Shin-Soo Choo's walk. Angels manager Mike Scioscia had no choice but to yank the suddenly struggling Fuentes and bring in Jason Bulger.
That's where the rally fizzled. The slow-footed Martinez grounded into a 3-6-1 double play that scored a run, and Peralta grounded out to short to end the game.
"There's never any quit in these guys," Wedge said. "Fuentes is one of the best closers in the game. But the right-hander they brought in did a good job."