CLEVELAND -- It's a brief walk from the pitcher's mound to the home dugout. Only the third baseman and catcher have shorter strolls back to the bench from their defensive positions.
After the top of the 11th inning on Saturday, Indians reliever Joe Smith was one of the last Tribe players to retreat to the dugout. Sporting a look of defeat, Smith slowly sauntered back, taking as much time as possible with each step.
Pinch-hitter Adrian Beltre's three-run homer off Smith with two out in the 11th sparked the Rangers to a 5-2 win and took the air out of a re-energized Progressive Field crowd that had watched its team perform some of its patented late-innings magic.
Tribe skipper Manny Acta rolled the dice with his side-winding right-hander, who had held Beltre hitless in five at-bats entering Saturday's showdown.
"I knew I didn't hit him well," Beltre said. "I didn't know how many at-bats, but I didn't feel comfortable before facing him. But I got a good pitch middle away and hit it."
Beltre's blast was his third career pinch-hit homer and his first in 12 years. The majestic drive soared well beyond the center-field wall and traveled an estimated 456 feet.
The Rangers were fortunate to have Beltre merit a chance at the dish. After a leadoff walk by Chris Gentry, Nelson Cruz hit into a force out. As Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera attempted to fire a relay throw to first base, Gentry slid in hard and broke up the potential double play.
"That team is just way too good to be giving them extra outs and extra opportunities," Acta said.
After Texas catcher Mike Napoli followed with a groundout to advance Cruz to second, Acta elected to have Smith intentionally walk left-handed-hitting Mitch Moreland to face Beltre.
"Smith has always pitched well against Beltre up until tonight," Acta said. "You have to give him credit. I made the decision. I don't second-guess myself. Some will work, some won't, but I'll sleep fine because I don't second-guess myself."
For most of the night, the notion that the Indians could even send the game into extra innings seemed implausible. Cleveland starter Derek Lowe worked his magic frame after frame, unearthing new methods of escaping harm. Rangers southpaw Derek Holland, on the other hand, found the Tribe offense to be rather harmless.
One night after a steady Indians attack produced 10 hits in a 6-3 win, Holland stifled the Tribe with an array of sinkers and curveballs. Through seven innings, the Indians produced just three hits, all of which came with two outs.
The tide turned in the eighth when the Rangers' 2-0 lead evaporated. The Indians entered the contest batting .348 when facing a starting pitcher for the fourth time in the game. Center fielder Michael Brantley and second baseman Jason Kipnis -- who extended his hitting streak to nine games -- bettered that average with consecutive singles. Cabrera plated Brantley with a double before Kipnis scampered home on a passed ball one at-bat later.
That took Lowe off the hook. The Rangers routinely reached base against the veteran right-hander, who leads the Indians with four wins. Lowe retired the side in order just once in his six innings. Texas placed two or more runners on base in four of those frames.
Lowe benefited from a pair of timely double plays, including one in the fifth inning that neutralized an imposing Rangers rally. He admitted he didn't have his best stuff, which led him to declare Saturday's start as his best outing of the season.
"The game is easy when you can throw pretty much any pitch whenever you want," Lowe said. "But it's gratifying when you don't really have that good of stuff against this tough of a lineup. To actually only give up two runs was pretty hard to do. Some of those innings I would never want to try again."
Lowe limited the damage long enough for the Indians to climb back and allow the bullpens to determine the outcome. Both clubs traded zeros until Beltre unleashed his fifth homer of the year, just the second Smith has allowed in the last two seasons.
"The boy can hit, that's for sure," Smith said. "You have to bring your game when you face him. If you leave a fastball up in the zone, apparently he doesn't miss it."
As soon as the 33-year-old clubbed Smith's high fastball, the reliever put his head down. He turned to give one last-ditch glance at the ball, hoping it somehow found its way into Brantley's glove. When Smith peered back, however, Brantley was also an observer, watching the ball sail past a collection of trees beyond the center-field wall.
When asked after the game if Beltre had ever recorded a hit against Smith, the reliever grinned and simply said, "Nope," later reiterating that he was well aware of that fact.
"He's up there to do damage," Smith said. "That's what can happen."