September 16, 2014

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Dan Coughlin: It wasn’t the usual suspects who let Indians down

The guys who let us down were not on my worry list. C.C., Fausto, Pronk and Blake. I thought we were golden with them.
C.C. and Fausto folding up twice against the Red Sox. An off night occasionally, but you can’t explain an off series.
Maybe we shouldn’t have been so comfortable with C.C. There were warning signs. Earlier in his career didn’t he fall apart when he pitched in Oakland, his hometown?
Pitching in front of family and friends usually turned into highly hyped disappointments. He got over the hometown jitters this year. Maybe in time he’ll conquer the October jitters.
Fausto? Who knows? Maybe it’s just that he’s 23 years old. Maybe physical or mental fatigue kicked in. He pitched far and away more innings this year than he ever worked in his life. Last year he pitched 102 innings; this year over 200.
Travis Hafner needed a compass. His season went south in May and he never got it turned around. He lost 50 points off his lifetime batting average but he did manage to reach the 20-homer and 100-RBI plateaus.
It wasn’t easy. From start to finish this season was a struggle for him. By October he lost sight of the strike zone. He hit .186 with four RBIs in 11 playoff games. He struck out 15 times, including 12 strikeouts in the Red Sox series. It became sad.
Somehow the Indians still had a 50-50 chance to win the Boston series until the seventh inning of the seventh game.
Trailing 3-2, the Indians had Kenny Lofton on second base with one out when Franklin Gutierrez ripped a bullet just inside the third base bag. It caromed off one of those funny corners just beyond the infield and bounced into short left field.
Lofton failed to score — he didn’t even try to score — because third base coach Joel Skinner put up a late stop sign. Gutierrez did not advance beyond first base.
Later, Lofton said he would have scored and he’s probably right. But earlier in the game Lofton had been thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double. Manny Ramirez, of all people, played the carom off the wall and fired a strike to second base.
Replays indicated that Lofton was safe — by a whisker. But it was close enough to make Skinner gun shy.
Lofton out at second cost the Indians a run. Understandably, Skinner didn’t want to be responsible for a runner thrown out at the plate in a one-run game. With Lofton on third, the Indians needed only a fly ball to tie it.
Inexplicably, Casey Blake promptly swung at the first pitch and bounced into a double play to end the inning.
The Indians seemed to go immediately flat, consumed with depression. Blake must have been brooding about the double play when he took his defensive position at third base and immediately made an error on a ground ball, the type of play Blake makes so confidently.
The dark cloud spread out to envelope Rafael Betancourt, who served up a two-run homer to Dustin Pedroia. Suddenly the Indians trailed 5-2 and the rout was on.
The next inning Blake collided with Jhonny Peralta, allowing a popup to fall safe just inside the left-field foul line and bounce into the stands for a ground-rule double. By this time Blake’s mind was in the next time zone.
Jake Westbrook, who pitched so valiantly for six innings, said he could have pitched the seventh. He had thrown 93 pitches, but he was getting stronger. After allowing seven hits over the first three innings, Westbrook was in total command by the sixth.
But who can question Tribe manager Eric Wedge’s decision to bring in Betancourt for the seventh? Not Westbrook.
“Betancourt has been lights out,” said Westbrook. “I can’t argue with that.”
This time, however, Betancourt was not lights out. He allowed five hits and seven runs and did not survive the eighth.
The Indians won as a team and they lost as a team. They had many heroes during the course of the season. In the last three games it took an entire team to blow a series of this magnitude.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for Channel 8. Contact him at ctsports@chroniclet.com.