ATLANTA -- There are countless mistakes throughout a baseball season that are soon forgotten. Then there are blunders that can torture a fan base and are remembered years later as moments that cost a club dearly.
Indians fans can only hope that is not the case with Asdrubal Cabrera's gaffe on Wednesday night.
In a critical situation, in the midst of this crucial stretch of games, Cabrera committed a game-changing mental error in a 3-2 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. On the cusp of a rally in the eighth inning, Cabrera got caught in a self-created rundown that tripped up the Tribe and helped Atlanta claim the first two tilts of this three-game Interleague series.
"That was really bad for the team," Cabrera said. "It was my fault. That's it."
There were plenty of players shouldering blame in a subdued visitors' clubhouse after this loss.
Cabrera made no excuses for his miscue in the eighth inning, when he stopped dead in his tracks thinking Michael Brantley fouled off a pitch. On the other side of the room, starter Justin Masterson said the defeat was his responsibility, considering he walked the pitcher shortly before the Braves scored two runs in the second.
Then, there was reliever Joe Smith, who ultimately allowed the walk-off single to Chris Johnson in the ninth, creating a roar from the home crowd as Atlanta's players celebrated on the field. Smith also accepted fault for the decisive inning, which included a decision to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman to get to Johnson with two outs.
It is the little things that kill.
"We're making small mistakes that are unfortunately leading to close losses," Masterson said. "In one sense you're excited, because we're right there. We're in every single game we're going after. We're more or less losing ballgames. We're not always getting beat. We're losing ballgames. That's the unfortunate part of it."
The Indians (71-61) remained 5 1/2 games behind the American League Central-leading Tigers, who dropped a 14-4 decision to the A's. Then again, Cleveland is chasing Oakland for the AL's second Wild Card spot, and is now staring at a four-game deficit in that race.
Cleveland is in the midst of a tough nine-game stretch against postseason contenders in the Braves, Tigers and Orioles, and losing two in a row in Atlanta was certainly a less-than-ideal start.
"We're sitting pretty good right now, as long as we start winning some games," Smith said. "Tonight stinks. We needed a win. We needed it bad. So it hurts a little bit. We could've still got out of here with two out of three, which would've been great, especially heading into Detroit. I didn't help us tonight. That hurts."
Mistakes have been more glaring of late due to the Tribe's laboring lineup, which is 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position through two games against the Braves.
Entering Wednesday, the Indians ranked 14th in the American League with a .685 on-base plus slugging percentage and 13th in runs scored (141) in the season's second half. The two-run showing against the Braves marked the 15th time in the past 24 games that the Indians scored three or fewer runs, and the club has posted a 3-12 record in those contests.
"Man, you just try to figure out the game tonight," manager Terry Francona said. "Regardless of what's going on -- who's hitting or who's not -- you try to put a lineup together, play the game and figure out a way to win. We're getting good pitching and, because of that, we're staying in games and giving ourselves a chance."
Masterson, Cleveland's resident rotation leader, gave his team six solid innings, dodging damage at a variety of turns against the National League East-leading Braves. Atlanta grabbed a lead in the second inning, when Jordan Schafer delivered a two-run single against Masterson to left field with two outs and the bases loaded.
Cleveland could not get much going against Braves lefty Paul Maholm, who limited the Tribe to one run on six hits in his six innings. The southpaw's lone misstep came in the fourth inning, when Mike Aviles drilled an 0-1 pitch into the left-field seats for a two-out home run that trimmed Atlanta's lead to 2-1.
The Indians had momentum back on their side in the eighth inning.
Facing Braves reliever Luis Avilan, Nick Swisher led off with a base hit, Jason Kipnis followed suit and, two batters later, Cabrera drew a one-out walk to load the bases. Aviles sliced a pitch from Avilan down the right-field line, where Schafer hauled it in for the out. It was deep enough to serve as a sacrifice fly, scoring Swisher to make it 2-2.
With two outs, runners on the corners and Brantley at the plate, Cabrera sprinted for second base. Brantley swung and -- thinking the ball was dead due to a foul ball -- Cabrera stopped running midway between first and second base.
"We're trying to yell," Francona said. "It's kind of a frustrating feeling. He thought it was a foul ball and there's nothing you can do. You're too far away."
Braves catcher Brian McCann threw the ball back to Avilan at the mound, giving Cabrera a chance to continue on for a stolen-base attempt. Instead, with his head down, the Indians shortstop was quickly caught in a rundown, which ended with Cabrera in the dirt and shortstop Andrelton Simmons applying the tag.
It was a costly mistake that proved pivotal in the end.
"If we can continue to make those small adjustments," Masterson said, "we can easily win these ballgames as we continue on. It's not like we're playing terrible baseball. We're actually playing pretty good. It's just one little thing."