Tampa’s Blake Snell made another impressive case in his bid for the American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday afternoon as he shut down the Cleveland Indians with just one hit and one run allowed over seven innings in a 3-1 Rays win.
Still on the outskirts of the second AL Wild Card spot, the Rays got a big game from their left-handed ace, who took over the Major League lead in wins with his 19th of the year. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and left with a safe 3-1 lead, with his bullpen taking care of the final two frames to wrap up a disappointing 3-4 road trip for the Tribe.
Tampa took an early lead in the first against Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco as a familiar face dealt another damaging blow for the Rays. Hero of the series opener, Ji-Man Choi, came to the plate with two outs after an infield single by Tommy Pham. He wasted no time, jumping on a first pitch two-seamer from Carrasco and drilling it to straightaway center field for a two-run home run to give Tampa the lead.
Snell allowed just one base runner his first trip through the order. After retiring the first seven in a row with five strikeouts, he walked Roberto Perez with one out in the third. He was left standing at first after a lineout and another strikeout, giving Snell six through three.
Carrasco escaped a jam in the third after Mallex Smith reached on another infield single. After Joey Wendle popped out for the second out, Smith picked off second and was joined on the bases by Pham after a walk. The pair moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch by Carrasco, but the Tribe right-hander struck out Choi swinging to quell a significant threat.
The Rays used a big leadoff hit by Brandon Lowe to add to their lead in the fourth. Lowe took Carrasco’s second offering and slapped it to right field before scampering all the way to third for a triple. Kevin Kiermaier sent a sacrifice fly to left to give the Rays a three-run advantage.
Snell was in full control and three runs proved to be plenty of support for the young southpaw. He retired the side in order in the fifth and the sixth, giving him four innings of facing the minimum.
The Rays got runners into scoring position in the same innings, but were unable to score. Andrew Velazquez singled before being forced at second. Wendle flied out, but Smith stole second. Pham struck out swinging to end the inning. In the sixth, Carrasco struck out the first two before Kiermaier tripled to center. Jake Bauers walked on six pitches, but Jesus Sucre grounded the next pitch to third, where Jose Ramirez fielded and threw to second for the inning-ending force.
There were few highlights for the Tribe on Wednesday, but the biggest came in the seventh against Snell in his final inning of work. With a no-hitter still intact, he faced Ramirez and fell behind 3-0 before firing a strike. Ramirez fouled off the next two pitches before Snell missed on a curveball over the plate and the Indians’ home run leader ended his homer drought with a drive over the wall in left, his 38th roundtripper of the year to end the no-no and shutout with one swing. Snell got the next three in order to stop any momentum the Tribe could have gained.
Chaz Roe pitched a scoreless eighth, striking out pinch-hitter Greg Allen looking before pinch-hitter Yonder Alonso walked. Terry Francona went to his third straight replacement at the plate, calling on Josh Donaldson to hit for Erik Gonzalez, but the newest Tribe offensive weapon grounded into a double play around the horn.
After a solid inning from Andrew Miller in relief (a single and two strikeouts in the frame), the Indians took their final hacks against Rays closer Jose Alvarado. Facing the top of the Tribe’s order, he cut down Francisco Lindor looking at three strikes in a four-pitch at bat for the first out, then recovered from a 2-0 hole against Yandy Diaz to pump three straight strikes over for the second out. Ramirez launched the second pitch of his AB into right field for the final out, giving the Rays the series and the season set from the Indians in a crisp two hours and 20 minute contest.
The Rays (80-65) remained in the mix for the AL Wild Card ahead of their three-game series with the Oakland A’s this weekend. They have put up one of the best home records in baseball this season, posting a 46-25 record at Tropicana Field this year, and are now eight games out with 17 to play. The Indians (82-64) were unable to chip away further at their magic number, which remained at three with the Minnesota Twins set to play an 8:10 PM ET contest against the New York Yankees later in the day.
Snell’s 19th win is tied for the second-most in the 21-year history of the Rays franchise, matching David Price’s effort in 2010 (Price is the team’s all-time single season win leader with 20 during his Cy Young campaign in 2012). Snell walked two batters and struck out nine in the outing. The bullpen behind him issued a walk and struck out three in two scoreless, hitless innings of work.
“He’s got the whole package,” said Francona. “He’s got velocity, breaking ball, changeup. And seeing how much he’s improved from one year to the next, that’s pretty special stuff.”
Carrasco gave the Indians a quality start, but his offense was unable to provide a quality response of its own. He allowed three runs in seven innings, giving up six hits and three walks while striking out five to remain winless in his last three outings. He threw 61 of 101 pitches for strikes and worked ahead of 17 of 29 hitters, but dropped to 16-9 on the year in defeat.
Pham extended his MLB-leading and career-best hitting streak to 16 straight with his first inning single.
The Indians will take Thursday off before starting their final homestand of the regular season on Friday when they host the Detroit Tigers from Progressive Field. Josh Tomlin will get the start in the series opener against Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd. The Rays will stay at home and await the arrival of the Athletics for three straight over the weekend.
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