By Sean McAdam
CLEVELAND -- Slumping teams need to catch a break occasionally. But the way the Red Sox are going in the first week of 2011, they seem incapable of either making their own good luck, or knowing what to do with it when they get some.
Case in point: the sixth inning of Wednesday's 8-4 debacle at Progressive Field.
It was bad enough that Dennys Reyes, making his fourth appearance in the first five games, couldn't find the strike zone. He threw 12 pitches, and 11 for were balls. Of the three hitters he faced, two were hit by pitch and the third was walked.
Walked while he was trying to get a bunt down. Walked while he was trying to, quite literally, give the Red Sox an out.
Then, things went from bad to downright bizarre.
Dan Wheeler, on in relief of Reyes, got Michael Brantley to hit a liner right at -- more or less -- third baseman Kevin Youkils.
That's when the craziness began.
"It's one of those plays where, if you catch the ball, it's bases loaded still," recounted Youkilis. "You try that play a lot of times where you drop the ball on purpose. Sometimes it works. Usually they call it a dead ball. But right there, we almost had it worked out."
Like teammate J.D. Drew, who last year couldn't quite make up his mind on whether to catch a ball in foul territory or let it drop with a runner on third, Youkilis seemed to be indecisive.
At first, Youkilis thought he would drop the liner intentionally. But as the ball began to tail to his glove side as it got closer, Youkilis was caught in between. The ball -- intentionally or not -- fell out of his glove, creating chaos everywhere.
Youkilis scooped up the ball a few feet away and stepped on third base, creating a force play on Matt LaPorta, advancing to third. He then fired home to Jason Varitek, who was waiting to make a play on Travis Buck, the Cleveland runner breaking from third.
One problem: Varitek didn't see that Youkilis had stepped on the third-base bag, thus taking the force off a home. When Youkilis's throw arrived, Varitek merely stepped on home plate, thinking he had recorded an out.
In fact, he hadn't. Buck continued and crossed the plate, giving the Indians a two-run cushion.
"I didn't yell to Varitek to tag Buck," said Youkilis. "I guess Adrian Gonzalez was yelling at him from first base, but it was loud and all that, because the play was kind of crazy. It was just one of those things where it didn't work out."
"Obviously, I had no idea Youkilis had stepped on third," said Varitek. "I'm still trying to learn that one right now. I should have gone ahead and tagged him also. We were trying to secure an out and get the one out at the plate, but the way the ball richoched and where it was, I just never saw it. It was totally my fault.
"It's probably the weirdest play I've ever been a part of. I'm trying to learn what what I could have done different, besides, obviously, tagging him. But I didn't actually see the play."
Things then snowballed. Wheeler threw a sinker to Asdrubal Cabrera, about where he wanted it, but Cabrera went down and drove it out to right for a back-breaking, morale-sapping three run homer.
From down by a run when the inning began, the Sox were suddenly trailing by five, with another loss as their pennance.
"We've had a lot of different things happen," said Varitek in a bit of understatement.
Indeed, starting pitching was the culprit in the first two losses, with the punchless offense to blame for the next two.
Wednesday night, it was poor bullpen work and an uncharacteristic flubby one of the team's most fundamentally sound players.
One bad inning, one more bad loss. One they could hardly afford.