By CHRIS ASSENHEIMER
CLEVELAND â€” This is not where the Indians expected to be halfway through the 2008 season.
A win away from the World Series last year, Cleveland is now a victory and then some away from first place in its own division after being shut out 5-0 by the Reds on Saturday night at Progressive Field.
With 81 games complete, the Indians are eight games under .500 and considering trading ace C.C. Sabathia as the season teeters on the brink of extinction.
â€œItâ€™s been an odd year,â€ said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team has been plagued by injuries and performance issues at the plate and in the bullpen. â€œWeâ€™re just a different ballclub.â€
A losing one.
The loss ensured that the Indians will lose the coveted Ohio Cup against its intrastate rival Cincinnati, which swept Cleveland at the Great American Ball Park (May 16-18) and evened this series with the rubber match set for today.
They managed just five hits off Reds starter Johnny Cueto, who entered the outing with a 5-8 record and 5.01 ERA.
It was a different story for the Reds, who made their hits matter, especially No. 9 hitter Paul Bakoâ€™s two-out, bases-clearing double in the fourth inning that gave Cincinnati control with a 4-0 advantage.
â€œIt was just a timely hit for Bako,â€ said Cleveland starter Paul Byrd, who allowed four runs on six hits through six innings. â€œFor me, thatâ€™s what the game came down to.
â€œI tried to go out there and battle. I had the best fastball Iâ€™ve had in two years. Itâ€™s a shame that I couldnâ€™t go out and get the job done.â€
The Indiansâ€™ best scoring opportunities arrived in the second and seventh innings.
In the second, Cleveland had runners on second and third with one out, failing to get a sacrifice fly from Ryan Garko, who lined to second before Franklin Gutierrez was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Sal Fasano struck out to end the threat.
The Indians had the same situation in the seventh, with Jamey Carroll lining to first and Ben Francisco watching a third strike to continue the futility.
â€œWe didnâ€™t do a particularly good job against their starter,â€ Wedge said. â€œAnd the opportunities we did get, we didnâ€™t take advantage of.â€
Byrd allowed his American League-leading 21stÂ home run of the season to the second batter of the game, Adam Dunn. But after the fateful fourth, retired six of the seven batters he faced in the fifth and sixth.
â€œOnce he got past that fourth, he shut them down,â€ Wedge said. â€œHe gave us the chance to win the ballgame. When he left the game, I still felt like we had a chance to win.â€
Comebacks have not been the earmark of this Indians team, which put two on in the ninth, but fanned for all three outs against Reds closer Francisco Cordero.
â€œWe need to turn it around,â€ said Byrd, who fell to 3-9 with a 5.26 ERA, losing for the fifth time in six starts. â€œWeâ€™ve been saying that for a while now. No one likes losing, but no oneâ€™s dogging it or throwing in the towel. Thatâ€™s a beautiful thing.
â€œWeâ€™re not mathematically eliminated. We can still turn this around.â€
Assenheimer may be reached at email@example.com or 440-329-7137.