CLEVELAND -- Not long before he threw the sinkerball that Nelson Cruz pounded onto the left-field porch in the 10th inning, Jamey Wright threw the sinkerball that got the Indians out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth. "The same thing that can make you laugh," Wright said, "can make you cry." So it is in baseball, and so it is with an Indians team that has been nothing if not erratic in the early going of the 2010 season.
On Monday, Wright was the ultimate goat in a humbling home opener, as Cruz's two-run blast sent the Tribe to a 4-2 loss to the Rangers in front of 42,061 fans at Progressive Field. Of course, Wright was only in the game because closer Chris Perez let the Rangers load the bases and didn't record a single out in the ninth. That's the same Perez who blew a save in Detroit on Sunday yet converted two in a row in frigid conditions in Chicago last week. And Perez was brought out to preserve a 2-2 tie because the Indians' bats that have notched five runs or more three times and two runs or fewer four times this year came out on the wrong end of the spectrum in this one. They were largely absent against Rich Harden and the Rangers' bullpen, and they wasted eight solid innings of work from Fausto Carmona. If you expected such erratic tendencies from a Tribe team that has the second-youngest 40-man roster in the Majors, you get points for the premonition. "We're not clicking yet," said Mike Redmond, one of the few veterans in the mix. "But we will." Redmond was behind the plate as Carmona was clicking in this outing, and that's what made the absence of the offense and the blunder by the bullpen all the more upsetting for the Tribe, particularly under the glare of the most high-profile home game on the season slate. This was Carmona's coming-out party. Many in the crowd had heard or read about the adjustments he made over the winter and in the spring -- moving to the first-base side of the rubber and keeping his composure in hitters' counts -- but this was their first opportunity to see the fruits of his labor. Carmona delivered. In his eight innings of work, he allowed just a pair of runs on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts. "I kept the ball down and threw strikes," Carmona said. And this came after Carmona walked six White Sox batters but limited the damage to three runs and took the win in Chicago last week. "It's very encouraging," manager Manny Acta said. "Especially after the way he pitched in Spring Training. We wanted him to take that into the season, and he's done that so far." What hasn't been taken into the season is any consistency on the offensive end. In this one, Shin-Soo Choo got the Indians on the board with two out in the first when he pounded a Harden fastball into the right-field seats for the 407-foot solo shot that made it 1-0. But after Choo reached on a one-out walk in the third, he took off running on a Travis Hafner fly ball to left, forgetting there was only one out and getting easily doubled up at first. The Rangers took a 2-1 lead in the fifth, when Michael Young scooted a grounder past the reach of second baseman Luis Valbuena to score a runner from second and Carmona threw a wild pitch that allowed Elvis Andrus to score from third. While the Indians did answer back in the sixth, on a Jhonny Peralta sacrifice fly that tied it up, they came out on the wrong end of a wrestling match at the plate. Travis Hafner attempted to score from second on a Matt LaPorta single to center, but Julio Borbon's throw beat him home, and when Pronk and catcher Taylor Teagarden collided at the plate, Teagarden managed to hold onto the ball. "It was a bang-bang play," Hafner said. "I took off, and Luis [Valbuena] told me to get down. Everything happened pretty fast. I didn't really see what was going on." Acta said it was a chance worth taking. "You have to take that shot," he said. "If we take the lead there, who knows?" They didn't take the lead there, and they didn't take it in the eighth, when Hafner and Peralta both went down swinging with Choo, who doubled and stole third, in scoring position. So Carmona was saddled with the no-decision, and the tie game dragged into the ninth. Perez was summoned to keep it knotted, but he allowed the Rangers to load the bases with none out. Acta had to dig deeper into his bullpen, calling on Tony Sipp to retire pinch-hitter Ryan Garko and Wright to get an inning-ending double play out of Young. Disaster averted. For a little while, at least. After the Indians went down quickly in the bottom of the ninth, Wright came back out for the 10th. He gave up a leadoff single to Hamilton, then, with one out, tried to get a 1-0 sinker past the hot-hitting Cruz. The ball was promptly pelted onto the porch. "He's got as much sock in his bat as anybody," Wright said of Cruz. "I didn't think the location was that bad. He golfed it out. One bad pitch lost the game for us." When the Indians went down quickly against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz and his selection of three-digit fastballs, it was game over. And it was another tough day for a Tribe team that, thus far in the 2010 season, has found more ways to lose than to win. "We've been in every game," Wright said. "That's a good thing. But these games are the ones you need early. We need to pick it up."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.