When the Braves came to Cleveland this weekend and took the first two games of a three-game set against the American League Central-leading Indians, they were almost able to forget the fact that this trip had begun with them being swept in Minnesota.
But by the time they exited Jacobs Field after Sunday afternoon's 5-2 loss, the Braves weren't exactly ready to enjoy the fortunes that they'd initially encountered this weekend. Instead, they were left wondering just how different the weekend could have been if a Scott Thorman error hadn't helped the Indians construct their decisive four-run sixth inning in the series finale.
"Getting a sweep after being swept would have been enormous," said Kelly Johnson, who represented the potential tying run when he ended the game with a long flyout to left-center field against Indians closer Joe Borowski.
During the first two games of their six-game road trip, Kyle Davies and Chuck James were both unable to provide the Braves with at least a five-inning start. And during the final four games of the trip, none of their starters gave up more than three earned runs.
Had Bob Wickman not encountered some misfortune in the ninth inning of the Thursday night masterpiece Tim Hudson had constructed at the Metrodome, the confidence-building effect of this trip may have been a little different. Then again, if Davies didn't have to battle both Thorman's error and the impressive right arm of Indians starter Fausto Carmona in Sunday's series finale, the Braves may have headed back to Atlanta with something better than the 2-4 mark they tallied on this trip.
"It really [stinks], because Kyle battled his butt off today and pitched a great game," said Thorman, who made up for his miscue by starting the eighth inning with a homer. "It's too bad that had to be the deciding play."
After limiting the Indians to one run in a potentially damaging fifth inning, Davies saw the bottom of the sixth begin with a Victor Martinez single and a Jhonny Peralta double. Ryan Garko followed with an "excuse me" check swing that produced a chopper down the first-base line. Thorman approached the chopper at the bag, and then saw it hop past him and into right field.
Consequently, Peralta and Martinez both scored. As for Garko, he ended up advancing to second and scored easiliy on a one-out RBI single by Franklin Gutierrez, who also would later cross the plate with the assistance of Brian McCann's eighth error of the season. McCann's errant throw, while attempting to prevent Gutierrez from stealing second base, allowed the Indians right fielder to go to third base, from where he'd score on a Josh Barfield groundout, which could have been the third out of the inning.
"This wasn't all his fault," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Davies, who allowed five runs -- three earned -- and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Thorman, who is in his first full Major League season, accepted responsibility. As soon as he completed his postgame meal, he called a group of reporters over to his locker to give his account of what had happened.
"It was kind of a unique play -- a check swing from a right-hander and the ball hugged the line all the way down the line," Thorman said. "I came up, when I guess I should have gone down on it."
Davies, who has lost three straight starts and four of his past five, wasn't willing to blame the loss completely on Thorman's error. Instead, he made a point to credit the dominance of Carmona, who allowed two earned runs and five hits in seven-plus innings. Until Thorman began the two-run eighth with his homer, just two Braves had advanced as far as second base and none had gone any further.
"Carmona was pretty good," Chipper Jones said of the 23-year-old right-hander, who threw six no-hit innings against the Braves in their Grapefruit League season finale on March 29. "He's got a bright future. I was pretty impressed with him."
Jones' second-inning leadoff single gave him the 2,000th hit of his career. His seventh-inning leadoff double only set the stage for a couple of frustrating moments provided by the tremendous defense displayed by Indians outfielders. With the Braves third baseman stuck on second base, the seventh came to an end with Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore laying out to make an acrobatic catch on Jeff Francoeur's sinking liner.
Michaels, who made his own diving catch in the seventh against McCann, contributed the play of the day in the eighth after Willie Harris' RBI double had brought the Braves to within three runs. With two on and one out, Jones took a Rafael Betancourt pitch to the opposite way toward the left-field line, only to see Michaels dive and snare it before it hit the grass.
"Off the bat, I thought it was a sure single that would score at least one run," Jones said. "He got a great jump and laid out. It was the play of the game."
It was also just the second out of the inning. But Betancourt needed just four pitches to end the eighth-inning threat with yet another strikeout of Andruw Jones, who is hitting a .208. The Braves center fielder has struck out in nine of his past 17 at-bats.
When asked about Andruw's prolonged woes, Cox made a whistling sigh, turned his head and said, "I don't know. Did he get a hit in Minnesota?"
For the record, Andruw did record one hit in Minnesota, which equaled the output he had during in the three-game series in Cleveland.
In other words, unlike the Braves, he didn't do enough in Cleveland to let him at least erase some of the bad memories that were created at the beginning of this road trip.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.