BOSTON -- The percentages do not always prevail. At a critical juncture in Thursday's game against the Red Sox, with first base open and the Indians trying to claw their way back into the ballgame, starter Josh Tomlin decided to go after slugger David Ortiz.
History said Tomlin had the advantage. Ortiz's bat said he was due.
Tomlin surrendered a towering two-run home run to Ortiz in the fifth inning, putting the Indians on a path to a 5-2 loss in the opener of a four-game set at Fenway Park. The defeat was the third in a row for Cleveland, which struggled to solve lefty Jon Lester and slipped to 3-4 on its three-city tour through Texas, Kansas City and Boston.
"I made a bad pitch to Ortiz there and he made me pay for it," Tomlin said. "That kind of changed the outlook of the game."
The Red Sox managed just one unearned run off Tomlin across the first four frames -- a throwing error by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera set the stage for an RBI double for Boston's Grady Sizemore in the second -- but the pitcher required a handful of escape acts. After all the bending, Tomlin broke, allowing Ortiz to up the momentum for Boston.
The fifth-inning rally began with a single from Jackie Bradley Jr., who moved to second on a throwing error by Tomlin on a pickoff attempt gone awry. Bradley then advanced to third on a groundout from Brock Holt. Tomlin followed by inducing another groundout -- this time from Dustin Pedroia -- to pull within one out of escaping.
Due to hit was Ortiz, who had gone 0-for-2 against Tomlin on the night, making the designated hitter 0-for-10 in his career against the righty to that point. Entering the evening, Tomlin also had more success facing lefties (.200 average) than righties (.228). Looming on-deck was the right-handed-hitting Mike Napoli, who boasts one home run in his career against the pitcher.
Pitching coach Mickey Callaway headed to the mound to talk things over with Tomlin, but an intentional walk was not part of the conversation.
"No, we just wanted to make sure we knew what we were going to do," manager Terry Francona said. "Going into that at-bat, he was 0-for-10, but I know what David can do. I've seen him do it."
Tomlin knew Ortiz's track record against him and was confident with the task at hand.
"It was a conversation of, 'We can get this guy out. We can attack this guy, but attack him in a smart way,' Tomlin said. "I made a mistake. Good hitters like that make you pay."
Tomlin got ahead with an 89-mph fastball, which Big Papi fouled off for strike one. Tomlin came back with the same pitch, but this time, Ortiz did not miss. The goal was to send the pitch outside the zone, but the heater leaked back over the middle. Ortiz launched the ball high over the center-field wall, where it landed in the bleachers for the veteran slugger's 15th homer of the year.
"David breaks through for us," Red Sox manager John Farrell said, "as we've witnessed many times."
With that shot, Cleveland found itself in a 3-0 hole. Second baseman Jason Kipnis delivered a two-run single off Lester in the sixth inning -- capitalizing on an error by Lester and pulling the Indians within one run -- but that is all the Tribe managed in that brief push. Lester allowed just the two runs (one earned) in his 7 2/3 innings of work, notching his seventh win of the season.
"He came out of the chute firing and looking really good," Francona said of Lester, who scattered eight hits and struck out four. "Trying to beat a pitcher like that, sometimes you have to try to get him out of the game or keep the score [close]."
The Indians again appeared poised to pull closer in the seventh.
Mike Aviles singled to left off Lester with one out. Michael Bourn followed by slicing a pitch to the wall in left-center, where Bradley ran it down on the warning track for an out. The catch was impressive on its own, but Bradley then sent a rocket of a relay back first base. Napoli gloved the one-hopper and stepped on the bag, doubling up Aviles for a highlight-reel double play as the Fenway faithful roared.
"That was a heck of a play, because he broke in," Francona said. "I didn't think he had any chance to catch that ball."
Tomlin -- charged with four runs (three earned) on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings -- pitched into the sixth, but he was chased from the contest when Jonathan Herrera came through with a two-out triple into the right-field corner. At that turn, the Indians turned to lefty Nick Hagadone to face the lefty-swinging Bradley.
Hagadone walked Bradley on four pitches, allowed him to steal second and then yielded a two-run double to Holt.
"I thought it was a perfect situation for Hags," Francona said. "It worked out about as bad as it could. That's not how we drew it up."
Once again, the percentages betrayed the Tribe.