For the second straight game Tampa Bay jumped on an Indians’ starter early, and for the second straight game the Tribe’s offense woke up too late, as the Rays beat Cleveland this afternoon at Progressive Field 7-4 to take 2-of-3 from the suddenly-struggling Indians.
This time Justin Masterson (5-1, 2.73 ERA) was the victim, as the Rays put four runs on the board in the second inning to make the rest of the game an uphill climb which The Good Guys were unable to navigate.
James Shields took a page from David Price’s book from Wednesday night, keeping Cleveland off the board until the sixth inning and improving to 4-1 on the season with seven innings of two-run, seven-hit ball, with one walk and seven strikeouts. Shields’ ERA climbed to 2.08, but he had plenty enough on this day to drop Cleveland to 23-13.
With the loss the Indians’ lead in the AL Central will drop to either four games or to 3 1/2, depending on what Kansas City does tonight in New York. If the Royals win, they will retain second place and close to within 3 1/2, but if the Yankees win, Detroit will move into second and the Cleveland lead will be four games over the Tigers.
After Masterson breezed through the first, he got knocked around for four hits and those four runs in the second. Evan Longoria walked leading off, followed by a single from Matt Joyce, moving Longoria to second. Casey Kotchman then singled to right to load the bases.
Masterson was able to get the first out when Elliot Johnson grounded to third and Jack Hannahan came home to get the force, but then with one out Reid Brignac doubled to left, scoring Joyce and Kotchman. Then, with two outs, Sam Fuld singled, driving in Johnson and Brignac, and the Rays had a nice big lead for Shields.
The Rays tacked on a run in the sixth when Johnson reached on a squeeze bunt, scoring Joyce and making it 5-0 Tampa Bay.
The Indians finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth when Asdrubal Cabrera led off with his sixth homer of the year. Later in the frame, Orlando Cabrera doubled to center to score Shin-Soo Choo from first, but Cabrera was then picked off at second to end the rally and leave the Rays’ lead at three.
Chad Durbin, who had come on with two outs in the sixth, pitched a scoreless seventh, and Rafael Perez shut the Rays down in the eighth, and in the bottom of the eighth the Tribe crept closer when Asdrubal Cabrera tripled with one out and scored on a ground out from Choo, drawing the Indians to within two and at least giving hope for a ninth-inning rally.
That rally, in fact, did happen, but unfortunately, the Rays added insurance in the top of the ninth.
Rafael Perez was still in the game when Ben Zobrist reached on a bunt single and Johnny Damon blooped a single to left-center, with Zobrist stopping at second.
On came Joe Smith, and Carlos Santana let a pitch get by for a passed ball, moving the runners to second and third. Then Longoria doubled home Zobrist and Damon, and although Smith was able to put out the fire, the damage was done and the Rays led 7-3.
In the bottom of the ninth the Indians, with one out, got a double from Orlando Cabrera off of Kyle Farnsworth, and Shelley Duncan scored Cabrera with a single to draw to within three, but Matt LaPorta flied out and Hannahan grounded out to end it.
Masterson went 5 2/3 innings and gave up five runs on eight hits, walking four and fanning six, in his first really shaky effort of the season.
It happens. Now let’s hope Masterson can bounce back in his next start in either Kansas City or Chicago next week.
With the win, the Rays move into at least temporary possession of first place in the East. Should the Royals beat the Yankees tonight Tampa Bay will enter the weekend atop that tough division.
Quite an accomplishment for a team that lost their first six games of the season and started 1-8. But a 21-7 record since then has earned them the spot.
As for the Indians, all that is left is to regroup and get ready for the Seattle Mariners, who come to town on Friday night for the first of three games.
The Indians swept the Mariners in Seattle in April. If they could duplicate that in Cleveland, the bad taste from the last two games will be washed away.