Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Pennant-race pressure new to young Indians

CLEVELAND - In a final week that opened with great optimism, the Cleveland Indians are down to their final 27 outs of the season.

The rerun of losing one-run games is burying the Indians' once-promising postseason hopes.

Yesterday's 4-3 setback to the Chicago White Sox at sold-out Jacobs Field was the Indians' fifth loss in sixth games and their sixth straight loss by one run.

As a result, Cleveland (93-68) no longer controls its destiny in the helter-skelter American League wild-card race.

Even if the Indians defeat Chicago in today's season finale, the Indians will need the New York Yankees (95-66) to defeat the Boston Red Sox (94-67) to force a one-game playoff tomorrow between the Indians and Red Sox for the wild card.

"I don't feel we've been playing tight. We're playing hard," outfielder Casey Blake said. "Apparently, we've got to do something different."

Cleveland is 39-17 since July 31. A postseason berth was once there for the taking. But many of the Indians' key players are still too young and inexperienced to know how to handle the rigors of a pennant race.

You can tell the Indians are new to pressure situations because they wasted another tremendous pitching effort, this time by Jake Westbrook, who held Chicago scoreless through six innings but was touched for a three-run home run in the seventh.

You can tell because the Indians yesterday snapped an 0-for-23 streak with runners in scoring position.

And you can tell because in the first two games of the Chicago series, Coco Crisp, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner are a combined 6-of-26 with nine strikeouts.

"I think we pressed a little bit with runners in scoring position," manager Eric Wedge said. "Guys are maybe overanxious at times. Obviously, that's been the one glaring thing the last couple of days."

The Indians are too good to dwell on the last few games. They had been a sound baseball team until a week ago. They haven't forgotten how to hit, pitch, and field, so what gives?

"When you come down to the last week, there's going to be tension," Westbrook said.

So, are the Indians pressing?

"I'm not sure," Westbrook said.

After pitching superbly, Westbrook yielded the costly homer to Tadahito Iguchi.

"I've [always] thrown him sinkers away," Westbrook said of Iguchi, who was 1-of-15 against Westbrook for his career prior to that at-bat. "I don't know if his approach changed, but he got it good."

Imagine that. Like Grady Sizemore losing a routine fly ball in the sun that cost the Indians a game in Kansas City last week.

It's been the little things - failing to deliver with runners in scoring position, making the wrong pitch at the wrong time, giving away runs in the worst way imaginable - that have been beating the Indians.

If you want to blame Wedge, go ahead. When all else fails, the manager is a convenient scapegoat.

But Wedge is showing up every day. He always has the Indians prepared to play.

The Indians have one more game to make things right. It's still not too late for them to save their season.

They'll need some help from the Yankees. But first they have to help themselves.

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