Tampa Bay Tags Perez for Three in the Ninth; Rays 7, Indians 6
By Bob Toth
A ninth inning rally by the Tampa Bay Rays off of Cleveland’s closer Chris Perez erases some of the earlier positive vibes of the day heading into the All-Star break, as the Rays sneak away with a 7-6 win in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
Perez came on in the ninth with a 6-4 lead, held down by an effective afternoon by the Indians’ “Bullpen Mafia”. Joe Smith retired all three batters he faced. Tony Sipp struck out the only batter he saw, left-hander Carlos Pena, in the seventh. Vinnie Pestano struck out three in the eighth, despite giving up a double and a walk after there were two outs.
Perez struck out Rays’ catcher Jose Lobaton on five pitches to start the ninth inning. Second baseman Will Rhymes followed by driving a 2-2 pitch to the seats in right for his first home run of the season and the second of his career, cutting the Indians’ lead to one at 6-5. After Elliot Johnson lined a single to center, Pena sent a shot to left-center that went under the glove of a diving Michael Brantley. The ball rolled to the warning track, allowing Pena to third on the game-tying triple. The next batter, Ben Zobrist, lined a single to right to score Pena, and the Rays took their first lead of the afternoon, 7-6.
All-Star closer Fernando Rodney would allow back-to-back two-out base hits to Brantley and Carlos Santana, but would retire Casey Kotchman on a fielder’s choice groundout to second with the tying run just 90 feet away to end it. It was the 25th save of the year for the Rays’ pitcher.
The loss and blown save for Perez (0-2) ended a streak of 24 consecutive saves converted by the Indians’ All-Star closer. His last blown save occurred on the first game of the season, a 16-inning, 7-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on April 5th. The Indians drop to 25-3 on the season when Pestano and Perez both appear in a game. The team also falls to 36-3 when leading after six innings and 31-3 when having a lead of three runs or more at any point in a game.
“[Perez] has been fantastic for us and he is human,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “Here and there that will happen. This guy has been spectacular since Opening Day. No one is going to go their whole career without blowing a save. He is good at putting that behind him. The stuff is there. It just happened that today did not work out for him.”
The Indians struck first in the second inning. Travis Hafner was hit by a pitch in the foot to lead things off. Brantley moved him to second on a single to right, extending his hitting streak to ten games. A fielder’s choice groundout by Santana to Rays’ starter James Shields worked more like a sacrifice, moving both runners up 90 feet. Kotchman skipped a one-out single up the middle past a diving Rhymes and into center field to score Hafner and put the Indians up, 1-0.
Johnny Damon led off the bottom half of the third for the Tribe with a triple to right-center. Then, for the second time in this series, the Indians would score a run in an unconventional manner from third base, as Shields would be charged with a throwing error attempting to pick off Damon. After outs by Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis lined his eighth double of the year to left field. Hafner would hit a sharp grounder against the shift that Rays’ third baseman Jeff Keppinger attempted to short hop. The ball skipped under his glove and into left field, scoring Kipnis from second and increasing the Indians lead to 3-0.
Kotchman got his second hit of the afternoon leading off the fourth. He lined a 2-1 pitch over the wall in right for his eighth home run of the year, putting the Indians ahead by a 4-0 score. He would add his third hit and third RBI of the afternoon in the fifth on a two-out, RBI single to right-center to score Kipnis, after Kipnis began the inning with an infield single off of the foot of Shields.
Tampa Bay finally got to Indians’ starter Zach McAllister in the top of the sixth, thanks to several defensive mistakes. After retiring Johnson on a groundout to second, Pena would hit a slow roller into the shift. Cabrera raced to the ball, but made a slow, underhanded flip from the second base position that Pena was just able to beat out. McAllister was able to induce a groundball by Zobrist, but Cabrera dropped the throw from Kipnis at second base while trying to start the double play. It was only the fifth error in the last 16 games for the Indians, who entered the day with the fourth-best fielding percentage in all of baseball.
The inning fell apart from there. Luke Scott doubled deep off of the wall and just off of the glove of center fielder Brantley, scoring both Pena and Zobrist. Keppinger walked on four pitches before Desmond Jennings doubled to right-center, scoring both runners and cutting the Tribe’s lead to 5-4. Smith would relieve McAllister and retire Lobaton on a grounder to first to end the threat.
McAllister had dominated the Rays’ lineup for five innings before losing control in the sixth. He worked five and two-thirds innings, allowing four runs on four hits, walking three, and striking out eight. None of the four runs were earned. McAllister retired eleven straight after a two-out walk to Zobrist in the first. Seven of those eleven were retired via strikeout, including the final five, before he gave up his first hit of the game to Keppinger in the fifth.
“He had a very good slider and pitched ahead in the count all day,” Acta said. “We didn’t play good defense behind him. He couldn’t stop the bleeding there.”
Despite getting hit hard early on, Shields gave the Rays seven innings. He gave up five runs (four earned), allowed ten hits, walked a pair, and struck out five (including Choo three times). He has thrown over 100 pitches in all but one start this season. He was able to work his way out of several jams, stranding eight runners on base.
Rays’ pitcher Joel Peralta relieved Shields in the eighth and quickly retired defensive replacements Jack Hannahan and Aaron Cunningham. Choo, who extended his hitting streak to seven games with a single in the sixth, drove a 1-0 pitch over the 400 foot sign in straightaway center field for his tenth home run of the season, giving the Indians what looked to be a comfortable 6-4 lead heading to Perez in the ninth.
Rays’ centerfielder B. J. Upton went 0-5 at the plate with four strikeouts against Indians’ pitching. The staff struck out fifteen Rays’ batters in the loss.
“I still feel we haven’t played our best baseball,” Acta said. “As a team, I am proud of what they have accomplished. Not everyone has gone full cylinder. They have stayed away from long losing streaks. We hung in there very [well] without Hafner for over a month. We had a winning homestand against two good ball clubs.”
The Indians (44-41) finish the unofficial first half of the season in second place in the American League Central behind the Chicago White Sox, maintaining just a one-half game lead over the Detroit Tigers. Kansas City and Minnesota round out the rest of the Central.
The Rays (45-41) go into the All-Star break in third place in the American League East, trailing front-running New York and second-place Baltimore.
Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez will play in the next action for the team on Tuesday night from Kansas City in the 83rd MLB All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 8:00 pm ET and will be televised on Fox.
Justin Masterson (5-8, 4.40) will lead the Indians back into action after the All-Star break. The Tribe will take on left-hander Ricky Romero (8-4, 5.22) at the Rogers Centre in a rematch of Opening Day. Catch the game from Toronto Friday night at 7:07 pm ET on SportsTime Ohio and the Cleveland Indians radio network.
Photo: AP Photo/Mark Duncan