CLEVELAND -- Give the Indians credit for the fight they've shown in the two games since the great purge of 2009 wrapped up with Friday's trade of Victor Martinez to the Red Sox. But also keep in mind, particularly in the wake of Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Tigers in front of 31,353 at Progressive Field, that this is a team very much in transition. And sometimes mere fight is not enough. In game two of the weekend set, the Indians did not have the extra-inning magic that carried them to victory Friday night. Rather, they saw some miscommunication between their recently acquired reliever and their freshly promoted catcher lead to what turned out to be the game-winning balk, of all things.
It was Jose Veras charged with that balk when he had trouble deciphering the signs of rookie catcher Wyatt Toregas, who was getting his first Major League start. "I was trying to get the signs," said Veras, who committed the balk with a runner on third. "I had put my hand in the glove, and I tried to step off [the mound]. That's why he called a balk." By that point, Veras had already given up the go-ahead run to the Tigers, who would have walked out with the win earlier, had the Indians not rallied off Detroit closer Fernando Rodney in the ninth. And that initial go-ahead run would have been enough, had the Indians not threatened to mount another comeback by scoring a run and putting the tying run at third in the bottom of the 12th. Yes, the fight was evident, even if the win was elusive. It certainly proved elusive for starter Jeremy Sowers, who gave the Indians six strong innings and deserved better than the no-decision he received. The Indians didn't do much to support Sowers against rookie Rick Porcello. Jhonny Peralta's first-inning RBI single was the only run off Porcello, who limited the Tribe bats to four hits with a walk and three strikeouts over eight innings. "He was very good," manager Eric Wedge said of Porcello. "He's a young pitcher who really commands his fastball. He sinks it and works it to the opposite arm side. He really did a good job controlling the ballgame." Sowers was pretty good himself. After taking a no-hit bid in the fifth, Sowers gave up his first run on an Adam Everett sac fly to tie the game. In the sixth, the Tigers threatened with consecutive singles from Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez and an RBI single from Miguel Cabrera to make it 2-1 with none out. It seemed Sowers, who has a tendency to struggle the deeper he gets into the game, was about to unravel. But he recovered to strike out Marcus Thames, retire Ryan Raburn and, after intentionally walking Brandon Inge, strike out Dusty Ryan to end the threat. "Anytime you get yourself out of a jam, it's nice," Sowers said. "I caught a huge break when Raburn hit that 0-2 pitch straight at [second baseman] Jamey Carroll." Sowers didn't catch any breaks, when it came to run support. Aside from Peralta's hit, the Tribe's only early offensive highlight came when Toregas notched his first Major League hit in his first at-bat. "My legs were shaking, and I couldn't even feel myself at the plate," Toregas said of that experience. "Somehow, I got a hit. I don't know how I did it." Toregas wasn't the only one making his Tribe debut. Justin Masterson, acquired in the Martinez trade, was given the ball on Martinez's Bobblehead Night and turned in three scoreless innings. Those innings loomed large in the ninth, when the Tribe offense finally put something together. Tigers manager Jim Leyland pulled Porcello after 91 pitches and went with Rodney, and Asdrubal Cabrera pounced with a leadoff triple. One out later, Peralta drove Cabrera in with a sacrifice fly on which Curtis Granderson made a diving catch in the outfield grass. It was 2-2, and the game headed into extras. The Indians had their opportunities for another walk-off win. But they stranded a runner in the 10th and two more in the 11th. On the other side of the equation, Kerry Wood pitched a scoreless 10th, and Tony Sipp relieved Joe Smith with a runner on third and two out in the 11th and got Granderson swinging on a big strike three. In the 12th, however, Veras couldn't come through. He walked both Polanco and Clete Thomas to open the inning. "As soon as you walk the leadoff hitter," Veras said, "you're in trouble." He nearly got out of the jam by retiring Cabrera and Carlos Guillen. But Raburn burned him by lacing an opposite-field single to right to score a run and make it 3-2. And with Thomas at third, Veras committed the balk that would loom large later. Down 4-2, the Indians nearly rallied against Zach Miner. Jamey Carroll singled with one out, and Trevor Crowe followed with a double to put two runners in scoring position. Toregas grounded out to second to score Carroll, but Grady Sizemore popped out to end the game. "Even in that last inning, we put ourselves in a position to tie it, if not win it," Wedge said. "These guys are hungry. I can't say enough about their effort the past two nights." But for a team in transition, the results won't always be up to par.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.