Rookie Shane Bieber made arguably the best start of his young career and a pair of solo home runs from his offense, including one from his battery mate, helped the Cleveland Indians secure their sixth straight winning season in a 2-0 shutout over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Bieber was locked in all game long, striking out a career-high eleven batters in six and two-thirds innings of shutout baseball. Blasts from Yan Gomes and Edwin Encarnacion off of Rays starter Tyler Glasnow proved to be enough as the 6’8” right-hander was dealt another tough loss against the Indians this season.
Both pitchers dominated in the early innings. Bieber allowed a one-out single to Tommy Pham in the first and walked him to start the fourth, but in each of the first four frames, he recorded two strikeouts while keeping Tampa off of the board.
Glasnow contained the Indians early on as well, retiring the first seven in order before a brief threat in the third. Jason Kipnis and Gomes reached on back-to-back one-out singles, but a line out by Francisco Lindor and a groundout to second by Michael Brantley left two runners on the base paths. Encarnacion got into scoring position in the top of the fourth after a wild pitch advanced him to second following a one-out single, but Josh Donaldson lined to right and Yonder Alonso grounded out to leave the team’s third runner on base through four.
In the fifth, Glasnow set down the first two batters on groundouts, but Gomes got to him with a big blast to center on a curveball over the meat of the plate to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead.
Bieber walked his second batter of the night in the bottom of the fifth, putting on Brandon Lowe with one down. He moved no further as for the fifth straight inning, Bieber struck out a pair.
Cleveland tacked on a second run in the sixth. After Jose Ramirez popped out to third to start the inning, Encarnacion jumped on a first pitch fastball and sent a no-doubter to left-center for his 30th homer and 96th RBI of the season, giving Bieber and the Tribe a 2-0 edge.
Bieber worked through the sixth and, for the first time on the night, he struck out just one batter in the inning. He was at the end of the line in the seventh, giving up a leadoff double to Joey Wendle before retiring the next two. Jake Bauers walked on four straight fastballs to put two on, and with the tying runs on base, manager Terry Francona went to his All-Star relief man Brad Hand to protect the lead. He uncharacteristically walked pinch-hitter Matt Duffy on four straight pitches and fired three straight out of the zone to Mallex Smith with the bases loaded, but he got two strikes to load the count and got Smith to pop up the payoff pitch to short to leave it a two-run game.
The Indians left two more on base in the eighth and Hand worked a much more conventional bottom half, striking out Pham before a pair of groundouts. In the ninth, the Tribe left runners on the corners after Lindor flied to left to end the inning.
Cody Allen took the mound for the ninth, looking for his 27th save of the year. Wendle singled to center for his second hit of the game. He was forced out at second on a groundout by Willy Adames for the first out. Lowe struck out looking on a curveball over the top of the zone, and Bauers flied to right, where Brandon Barnes secured the catch for the Indians to send them to victory.
The Indians (82-63) decreased their magic number to three games to clinch the American League Central Division with their 15th shutout of the season. The Rays (79-65) dropped to eight and a half games in back of Oakland for the second wild card spot in the American League with three games coming up against the A’s this weekend. They had been victors of 12 straight games at home.
Bieber moved to 10-3 on the season with six and two-thirds shutout innings. He scattered three hits and three walks on the night while striking out eleven batters with an even 100 pitches thrown. He moved to a perfect 6-0 to start the road portion of his career. Glasnow dropped to 0-4 with the Rays with a tough quality start loss on Tuesday. He allowed two runs on six hits in seven innings, issuing no walks while striking out three.
The two clubs combined to go 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position while each team left eight men on base. Gomes and Encarnacion each provided the big blows for the Indians and the pair accounted for half of the Indians’ hits and all of the run support on the day. Each had a single and a homer with Encarnacion hitting the 30-plateau for the seventh straight season. That homer gave the Indians’ three players with 30+ homers in a season (joining Ramirez and Lindor) for the first time since 1999 and just the fifth trio in team history.
Donaldson was activated from the 10-day disabled list prior to the game and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, ending a longstanding seven-game hitting streak.
The rubber match of the series is scheduled for a 1:10 PM ET first pitch on Wednesday afternoon from Tropicana Field and will feature a top flight pitching matchup. Left-hander Blake Snell (18-5, 2.06 ERA) will start the finale for the Rays, looking to keep his six-game winning streak intact. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (16-8, 3.41) will take the mound for the Indians, looking to get back into the win column after a tough no-decision against Toronto his last start. He allowed two runs (one earned) with a season-high tying 14 strikeouts in eight innings.
Photo: AP Photo/Chris O’Meara