Indians manager Manny Acta had a simple explanation for why his team's four-game winning streak came to a halt Friday night.
"When you only score two runs, you have to play almost perfect baseball and we didn't," he said after Cleveland's 3-2 loss to Miami.
All three Marlins runs were scored by batters who had started rallies with walks. A throwing error by reliever Joe Smith led to the run that broke a 2-all tie in the eighth. Those issues resulted in bigger trouble because three Marlins pitchers held the Indians to four hits.
Carlos Zambrano (2-2) pitched seven strong innings while Randy Choate and Heath Bell worked the final two frames to stop the Indians, who were bidding for a season-high winning streak.
Justin Masterson, bouncing back from a rocky outing Sunday against Boston, allowed two runs in seven innings. Reliever Tony Sipp (0-2) took the loss, but Smith's error made the winning run unearned.
Bryan Petersen opened the Miami eighth with a walk off Sipp and was bunted to second by Jose Reyes. Smith came on and got Omar Infante to hit a bouncer back to him. Smith whirled and threw to second, trying to get Petersen, but the ball hit the runner and rolled into right field for an error, putting Marlins on first and third.
Hanley Ramirez then hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Petersen.
Acta thinks Smith is the Indians' best fielding pitcher, but a brief moment of indecision played a big role in the play.
"I was trying to make a play on the run and I threw it away," Smith said. "I thought it was the right play. I'd go to second again. If he's going back to the bag, I have to get rid of the ball. In hindsight, I would catch it and get rid of it. In going back and looking at the video he was easily far enough (off the bag), if I plant and make a throw we got him."
"He probably took too long to get rid of the ball," Acta said. "When you get the guy caught inbetween, you give it up and get him. Once he didn't throw the ball right away, get the out at first base and you have two outs and a man on second."
Cleveland took a 2-0 lead off Zambrano in the second. Johnny Damon drew a two-out walk and scored all the way from first on Casey Kotchman's double just inside the first-base line. After Jose Lopez walked, Shin-Soo Choo singled home Kotchman.
Zambrano allowed two runs and four hits. He has a 1.96 ERA in eight starts since being acquired in a January trade.
"He's more of a pitcher now," Acta said. "He's not trying to blow the ball by people. He's got good movement on his pitches. He's cutting the ball and throwing off-speed stuff. With the heavy left-handed lineup we threw out there, we thought we had a good chance, but he pitched well."
The first eight batters in Cleveland's hit from the left side, but they combined for only three hits. Zambrano walked Damon three times.
"Zambrano pitched a good game," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I was kind of worried before the game because they have so many lefties in their lineup, but he made the big pitch when he had to make the big pitch. He controlled his emotions and did a good job."
Petersen also walked to open the third inning, was singled to third by Reyes and scored when Infante's ground ball forced Reyes at second. The Marlins tied it at 2 in the sixth. Infante walked, was doubled to third by Greg Dobbs and scored on a sacrifice fly by Giancarlo Stanton.
Marlins center fielder Emilio Bonifacio left with a strained left thumb in the fifth inning. Masterson threw over to first base four times to check Bonifacio, who was 20 for 20 on steal attempts. On one of the pickoff attempts, Bonifacio jammed his hand as he dove back. He was then thrown out by catcher Carlos Santana, who went 3 for 4 throwing out potential base stealers and is 8 of 25 overall.
Masterson gave up six hits in seven innings, after allowing six runs in six innings of a 12-1 loss to the Red Sox.
Notes: Indians DH Travis Hafner went 0 for 4. He had been replaced Thursday after getting hit in the right hand with a pitch. ... Indians 3B Jack Hannahan missed his fifth straight game with a sore back. ... Former Indians star OF Joe Carter and Hall of Fame RHP Phil Niekro, who pitched two seasons in Cleveland late in his career, greeted fans as part of the team's ambassador program. Niekro threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The first 15,000 fans received a Carter bobblehead souvenir. ... Guillen watched the Cubs-White Sox game on TV in the afternoon. Paul Konerko, whom Guillen managed for eight seasons, was hit in the helmet by Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija. "I texted him right away," Guillen said. "He texted me 10 minutes later and said he was fine." ... Guillen's sister, Darlenys, is married to Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky. ... Miami is 7-3 against the Indians in interleague play since beating Cleveland in a seven-game World Series in 1997.