Cleveland ace outduels Blue Jays' rookie
Cleveland Indians pitcher Cliff Lee showed why Roy Halladay isn't the only coveted ace these days, pitching a complete game and watching as his teammates finally provided offence in the top of the ninth in a 2-1 road win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
In the last inning, Victor Martinez struck a two-run double off Blue Jays closer Scott Downs (1-1) to prevent Lee from suffering yet another hard-luck loss.
Lee (6-9), who ran away with the American League Cy Young Award last year with a 22-3 mark, has been given only 15 runs of support in his last six starts.
"It seems like, for whatever reason, we've got bad luck when I pitch, but I feel like I've been doing the job," he said. "I can control what I can control, and that's it."
Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said earlier Tuesday that Halladay would not likely be dealt before the July 31 trade deadline. Lee, a year younger than Halladay, only made himself more desirable to baseball's contending clubs if that's the case.
The Indians hurler gave up just seven hits while striking out four and walking one. He counted only 18 balls among his first 74 pitches but was in a position to lose after Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen smacked a home run to dead centre in the bottom of the seventh.
As a result of their comeback, the lowly Indians improved to 37-57. Toronto failed to make it back to .500, dropping to 46-48.
Overbay's woes continue
First baseman Lyle Overbay was attempting to throw to second on the critical play in the top of the ninth but sailed the ball into the outfield.
Three batters later, the Indians took the lead for good.
"It's the right play," said Overbay. "Maybe if I don't get a good grip on the ball I'd think twice, but I got a good grip on the ball. He bunted it hard and it was an easy play that wasn't executed and it cost us the game."
If that wasn't enough, Overbay saw a modest four-game hitting streak end with an 0-for-4 outing. He has not driven in a run in 21 games.
"Hitting-wise, you're going to fail [sometimes]," he said. "But it's the defensive part that's bothering me."
Toronto's disastrous ninth began with Cleveland pinch hitter Ryan Garko's infield single and a throwing error by Lyle Overbay on Grady Sizemore's sacrifice bunt.
Toronto starter Brett Cecil had to settle for a no-decision despite a fine effort.
Cecil displayed all the promise and travail a rookie pitcher can bring to bear. He set a new high with nine strikeouts and allowed just five hits over seven innings — but also counted four walks and a hit batsman on his ledger.
Those mistakes contributed to nine Cleveland base runners over the first four innings, but Cecil worked himself out of each jam.
"It was a tough fought-game the whole way through, especially for me," said Cecil. "They had a runner on second or third in the first four innings."
The pitcher's off-speed stuff was so alive that catcher Rod Barajas on three occasions dropped a third strike, throwing to first for the put out.
Cecil has now strung together 13 scoreless innings over two starts since getting shellacked by the New York Yankees on July 5.
"My fastball wasn't located very well over the first couple innings, but both my breaking ball and my curveball outside were very good tonight, I thought."
The Indians missed plenty of chances to score. Asdrubal Cabrera tripled in the first, with Ben Francisco contributing a double in the next inning, but neither man was cashed in.
It got worse for Cecil in the third, with a pair of walks helping load the bases. Francisco was caught looking on the rookie's sixth strikeout to end the threat.
In the seventh, Cleveland coach Joel Skinner appeared to err by holding up Shin-Soo Choo on Martinez's first double of the game. That allowed Cecil to induce Jhonny Peralta into a ground ball for the third out.
"In hindsight it really doesn't matter, but as far as playing fundamental baseball you do have to get a couple of those across at least," Lee said of the missed opportunities. "But other than that, we played solid defence and swung the bat well."
Lee gave up leadoff doubles to Kevin Millar and Aaron Hill in the third and fourth, respectively, but on each occasion regrouped to retire the next three batters.
Millar's shot just missed clearing the bullpen wall in left while Hill broke out of an 0-for-19 slump with a two-hit effort.
Rolen did get to Lee with his seventh home run of the season, but for once the Indians rewarded their stellar starter.
Toronto's Vernon Wells returned after missing three games with a stomach virus. The centre fielder went 0-for-4 at the plate, including one of three outs in the ninth as Lee easily held on to his newfound lead.