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Published: Monday, 5/11/2009

Wedge could be fall guy for hapless Indians

Eric Wedge is by all accounts a good guy. He has always had his general manager's support. And history would show there's little chance of him losing his locker room.

But you have to begin wondering how much rope has been given the Cleveland Indians' manager and how much it might take for him to hang himself.

Wedge is in his seventh season, no small accomplishment in his business, and yesterday was the 1,004th game of his major league managerial career. It was different than his 1,002nd and 1,003rd games in that the Indians actually saw a few runners step on home plate.

The Tribe was nonetheless swept at home in a weekend series against Detroit. Granted, the Tigers' rotation of Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Hal Newhouser was tough to beat, but 19 straight scoreless innings and one run in the first 26 innings by the Indians seemed a bit feeble. Detroit's starters allowed a single run while striking out 23 Indians in 21 innings of work.

For the second straight season, Cleveland is heading for an early burial in the AL Central standings.

There are extenuating circumstances. The highest-paid hitter and highest-paid pitcher are both on the disabled list. Lefty Cliff Lee, 22-3 a year ago, is 1-5, although he has deserved far better. Grady Sizemore, an all-star by almost any definition, the leadoff batter who sets the tone and the table, is hitting

.227. Nobody can remember the team's last home run. Only two hitters have batting averages above .280. Each member of the bullpen has been issued his own gas can. Fans get gas masks.

Wedge is at the helm of this sinking ship and you wonder if his bosses are giving any thought to dropping the lifeboats.

On the other hand, he's been here before. And he might be the right guy to be here now.

Two years ago, after the Tribe had threatened to run away and hide from the division, Cleveland's hitters went into a prolonged funk. The team went through a dreadful, midsummer slump, losing more 2-1 and 3-2 games than you could shake a bat at.

Wedge kept the faith, stayed with his lineup, tinkered where he could, but never pushed any panic buttons. His players responded, snapped out of it with 11 wins in 12 games, and closed the regular season with a 29-10 run. The Indians advanced to the postseason and came within one win of the World Series.

A year ago, Cleveland got off to a gruesome start with an early 5-12 stretch. Later, the Tribe lost 16 of 22. Then they lost 10 straight. It was so bad that the team ran up the white flag and traded maybe the best pitcher around, C.C. Sabathia.

Somehow, Wedge held the locker room in his hand and convinced his players that there was still something for which to play. From mid-August on, the Tribe went 32-12 and rallied to a .500 record. It was a masterful job of managing, albeit void of any pressure, and that finish along with the off-season acquisition of a proven closer led to fairly high expectations for 2009.

But here they go again. After back-to-back shutout losses, the clubhouse door was closed for a late-night meeting on Saturday. Wedge was described as "annoyed" during his press conference. His team showed a little fight in the ninth inning yesterday, but a loss is a loss. The Indians are 10 games under .500 and firmly in last place.

Wedge will keep trying to get his team back on track. You just wonder how much time he'll get.

At toledoblade.com on Tuesdays, Hack and news columnist Roberta de Boer offer point-counterpoint on issues large and small.



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