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Tribe's bullpen takes loss in opener

Tribe's bullpen takes loss in opener

MINNEAPOLIS -- For those feeling a strange sense of nostalgia for those tortured, troubled times when no lead was safe in the hands of the Indians' bullpen, behold what transpired Monday night.

With an eighth-inning meltdown at the Metrodome, the Tribe 'pen turned what had been a three-run lead built on an outstanding start from Jeremy Sowers into a 6-3 loss to the Twins in the series opener.

This was a return to the bad old days -- specifically, the first half of a 2009 season that was quickly compromised by a bumbling bullpen.

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Chris Perez and Tony Sipp were responsible for this trip back in time, and it was a bumpy ride for a Tribe team that has now dropped 11 out of 14. Sipp left a pair of runners aboard for Perez, and, six runs later, the Tribe's three-run lead had turned into a three-run deficit.

"We were in a great position to win the ballgame," manager Eric Wedge said. "We just gave it back to them."

The Tribe was in a position to win because of Sowers' seven scoreless innings. He had turned in seven scoreless in a win over the Mariners on July 25, so his performance on this night was not without precedent this season.

Still, this was another strong step forward for Sowers, who has produced quality starts in six of his last nine outings, after developing a reputation as a guy who falls apart the second or third time through an opponent's lineup.

Sowers had no such trouble in this one. Though the Twins presented their share of scoring opportunities, Sowers continually found a way to shut them down. He gave up just six hits with two walks and two strikeouts, stranding a pair of runners in the first, third and seventh innings.

"It helped to get the leadoff guy out [in the first five innings]," Sowers said. "Especially against this team, because they like to bunt and move guys over. Taking that element out of it was important."

Wedge felt it was important for Sowers to get through the seventh. It was no easy feat for Sowers, considering he gave up a leadoff single to Delmon Young, followed by a walk to Matt Tolbert. But he got Carlos Gomez to go down swinging, Nick Punto to ground into a fielder's choice and Denard Span to fly out, capping a strong outing, in which he threw 104 pitches.

"He had worked pretty hard," Wedge said. "He had done his job."

As for the job turned in by the Tribe's bats, they didn't exactly pound former friend Carl Pavano into submission, but two big swings put the Indians in the driver's seat early.

After Lou Marson drew a walk to open the third, fellow rookie Trevor Crowe smacked a 1-1 pitch exactly 401 feet out to right-center field for his first homer, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead. Crowe has just 22 homers in 426 career Minor League games, so such pop is not exactly expected. But the Indians weren't going to complain.

In the fourth, Choo added to the lead with a leadoff shot to left, making it 3-0.

That lead was safe with Sowers, but not with the 'pen.

Sipp came on in the eighth, and leadoff man Orlando Cabrera reached on Asdrubal Cabrera's fielding error at short. Perhaps rattled by the error, Sipp surrendered a walk to Joe Mauer, squandering what was supposed to be a left-on-left advantage.

With two on, Wedge played the percentages and turned to the right-handed Perez, who had allowed just two runs over his previous 23 innings of work.

Everything that followed was ugly.

Hoping to induce a groundball, Perez instead left a fastball over the middle to Michael Cuddyer, who pounded the pitch out to center field with a 429-foot blast that tied the game at 3.

"I found too much of the plate," Perez said. "That pitch to Cuddyer was right over the middle."

Perez retired Brendan Harris for the inning's first out, but he let runners on the corners with singles from Young and Tolbert. Perez then uncorked a wild pitch -- a slider that got away from Marson -- that allowed Young to score the go-ahead run from third.

"I was trying to get a groundball and get out of the inning with as little damage as possible," Perez said.

But the damage wasn't done. Pinch-hitter Jason Kubel was in the box for that wild pitch. And after Young scored, Perez tossed Kubel a meaty fastball that was sent sailing 391 feet out to right for the two-run blast that sealed it. The Indians put a pair aboard against Joe Nathan in the ninth, but they didn't recover.

Now, in fairness, Sipp and Perez are a large part of the reason the Indians' bullpen has shown so much improvement in the second half. So while this loss was an ugly trip down memory lane, it didn't leave Wedge with the same befuddled, bewildered state of mind that plagued him back in April and May.

"I think we made some young mistakes on the mound and paid for it," Wedge said. "Those two young men [Sipp and Perez] have come a long way in a short time this year. As tough as it is right now, they'll be better for it."

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

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