The club's status looks particularly ugly for manager Eric Wedge, whose job security was already in question before this stale September and looks increasingly in jeopardy. Wedge held a team meeting last week to request a stronger effort from his players down the stretch, and they've responded with their longest losing streak of the season.
"We've got to keep fighting," Wedge said. "We were in a position to win tonight. We got a good effort from our starting pitcher. We were one base hit away from that being a different ballgame. We were one play early from that being a different ballgame."
That play came in the second inning, when Matt LaPorta singled and Lou Marson drew a walk off Jackson. With two out, Trevor Crowe punched a single to left, and LaPorta rounded third and headed home.
Trouble was, LaPorta felt something uncomfortable in his left hip and wasn't up to full speed. Left fielder Ryan Raburn's throw gunned him down for the final out of the inning, and LaPorta left the next inning with left hip inflammation. He's listed as day-to-day.
There were be other chances to score off Jackson, but none of them amounted to anything, either. The Indians hit into double plays in the first, fifth and sixth innings and stranded a pair in the seventh.
By the time Jackson left the game, he had tossed seven scoreless and was well on his way to improving to 4-0 against the Tribe this season.
"He's a guy with really good stuff," designated hitter Travis Hafner said. "He was up to 98 [mph], and he was mixing in his slider and changeup."
But Jackson threw first-pitch strikes to just six of the 27 batters he faced. Clearly, the Indians' attack left a little something to be desired.
Laffey, on the other hand, turned in an admirable effort. Coming off two clunkers against the Rangers and Twins in which he allowed 14 total runs, the left-handed Laffey redeemed himself with 6 2/3 innings of work in which he allowed just one run on seven hits with three walks. That lone run came on Raburn's solo shot in the third, and it was enough to saddle Laffey (7-7, 3.93 ERA) with the loss.
"One pitch, one mistake," Laffey said. "Other than that, I had really good [defense] behind me, and I was able to fill up the strike zone."
Laffey, who left with the Tribe trailing 1-0, showed improved command of his sinker, which he used to induce a pair of double-play balls.
The Indians could have used a double play in the eighth, when reliever Chris Perez walked Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez to open the inning, then served up a one-run double to Miguel Cabrera and a sacrifice fly to Marcus Thames. Those two insurance runs would loom large.
"The walks got us late," Wedge said.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Indians loaded the bases against Tigers relievers Bobby Seay and Brandon Lyon, and pinch-hitter Jamey Carroll drew an RBI walk with two out. That got the Indians on the scoreboard, but not over the hump. Lyon recovered to strike out Luis Valbuena to end the inning and effectively end the game.
Yes, the Indians were one hit away. But they are a world away from the Tigers in the standings and, mercifully, 12 games away from the end of an '09 season that is not lacking for low points. And this losing streak, brought on by a rookie-laden lineup and some underperforming veterans, is a new entry on that list.
"It can be hard, but you can't let it be," Hafner said of the streak. "You've got to stay positive. You can't feel sorry for yourself in this game, because it will wear you out."