November 29, 2014

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Orioles 4, Indians 1: Tribe can’t complete sweep of division leaders

Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Kyle Crockett, right, reacts as Baltimore Orioles' Jonathan Schoop, left, runs the bases after a solo home run in the ninth inning Sunday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Kyle Crockett, right, reacts as Baltimore Orioles’ Jonathan Schoop, left, runs the bases after a solo home run in the ninth inning Sunday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND — A productive homestand ended with the Indians being not so productive Sunday at Progressive Field.

With a chance to sweep the American League East Division-leading Orioles, Cleveland instead settled for a three-game series win, managing just two hits in a 4-1 loss in front of 22,564 fans.

The Indians, who went 3-2 in five straight home games, have won five of their last seven overall, but with a weak offensive performance against one of the AL’s most powerful teams, they weren’t able to hit the road on a positive note.

Orioles starter Kevin Gausman allowed a run on Cleveland’s only two hits over six innings of his 13th start, while a trio of relievers shut the Indians down the rest of the way, facing the minimum over the final three innings.

“We hit some balls hard, not, probably consistently,” manager Terry Francona said. “The ballpark played big to left-center, especially — for them, too.

“I thought, early in the game, Gausman was fighting his fastball command, but then he flipped a couple breaking balls in there at really good times and kind of got himself back in rhythm and pitched really well.”

Gausman walked two of the first three batters he faced, but the Indians failed to take advantage of one of their few scoring opportunities. They scored their only run in the fourth inning on a one-out single from Jason Kipnis.

Gausman lost his command again in the fifth, walking two straight with one out, but Jose Ramirez bounced into an inning-ending double play.

Danny Salazar offered up a positive outing, allowing two runs on four hits over five innings. But the right-hander got in trouble to start the sixth, allowing a leadoff double to Steve Pearce, before hitting Adam Jones with a pitch.

“In the last inning, I was just losing the zone a little bit,” said Salazar, who was removed despite the Indians in front 1-0.

Right-hander Scott Atchison nearly got out of the jam, but allowed a two-out RBI single to J.J. Hardy on a two-strike pitch that tied it at one before Chris Davis plated Hardy with the go-ahead run on his second double of the game.

“His pitch count was fairly high, but I thought he threw the ball pretty well,” Francona said of Salazar, who threw 97 pitches and struck out four. “I think sometimes the game dictates trying to keep (the score) right where it’s at, and Atch almost did.”

Salazar has been back and forth between the majors and Triple-A Columbus during a disappointing season that comes on the heels of what many viewed as a breakout performance at the end of last year.

But he has pitched better during his latest stint in the rotation, looking more like the pitcher that started the 2013 AL wild-card game.

“I think Danny’s in a good position moving forward,” Francona said. “I think with everybody, you can always learn, and I do think that, with Danny, learning the league is probably every bit as important as some of the other things.”

“(I feel) way better,” Salazar said. “My delivery is the key. Right now, I’m getting ahead a lot more than in the beginning of the year. That makes me feel more comfortable. It’s a little bit weird. One day, you’re here, the other day, in Triple-A. But I know the plan and I think it’s good.”

Home runs accounted for Baltimore’s final two runs, with Pearce going deep off C.C. Lee in the seventh inning, and Jonathan Schoop doing the same to left-hander Kyle Crockett to lead off the ninth.

It was a glimpse of what the Orioles, who are among the league leaders in homers, are capable of producing.

“You hope they get out of town and beat up on someone else, because they were pretty quiet for two games and a half,” Francona said. “There’s a lot of thunder in that lineup.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

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