A two-run bottom of the eighth pushed the Cleveland Indians past the Tampa Bay Rays by a 3-1 final on Friday night to end a four-game losing streak.
It was hardly the prettiest victory that the Indians could find, but it resembled just the kind of way that Cleveland has needed to perform to eke out victories this year. The Indians used a strong (but short) pitching performance from Shane Bieber, four shutout innings from the bullpen, and a late rally to hold off a tough Tampa Bay squad.
The Indians were down to their final outs of the night when they put together the game-changing rally in the bottom of the eighth. The score had been tied 1-1 since Cleveland tied up the score in the bottom of the fourth, but both pitching staffs had kept the opposing offenses silent. That changed in the eighth, as the Indians faced off with Jose Alvarado for a second inning of relief.
Cleveland attacked the hard-throwing left-hander quickly. Francisco Lindor singled to shallow right-center and was sacrificed to second one pitch later by Jason Kipnis. Alvarado lost the strike zone against Carlos Santana, walking him on five pitches. Jordan Luplow put together an identical at bat, swinging at the second offering before drawing a five-pitch walk to load the bases. Jose Ramirez was cut down on a low cutter for the second out, but Roberto Perez came through in the clutch in an unusual way, hitting a slow roller towards third. Rays third baseman Andrew Velazquez attempted to barehand the ball, but did not field it cleanly, allowing Perez to reach safely and Lindor to score with the go-ahead run, giving the Indians a 2-1 lead. Jake Bauers stepped in with a chance to pad the lead and did just that, taking two tough balls off the plate after the count went even at 2-2 to draw the bases loaded walk, forcing in Santana from third to make it a 3-1 game. Mike Freeman grabbed a bat for Eric Haase as Tampa skipper Kevin Cash hooked Alvarado for Hunter Wood, who struck out Freeman on three pitches.
Brad Hand gave up a leadoff single to Travis d’Arnaud to start the ninth, but got Daniel Robertson to fly to right before back-to-back strikeouts of Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham to end the ball game with his 13th save in 13 tries this year.
The Rays took a first inning lead against Bieber. Meadows started the game with a double to right. He moved to third on a liner to center by Pham. Ji-Man Choi fouled off three straight pitches before drawing a walk to put runners on the corners and Avisail Garcia delivered with a single to right to score Meadows to give the Rays an early advantage. Bieber bounced back with a better second, striking out the side in order.
Reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell set down the first three that he faced before Luplow kicked off the second with a single to right. He stole second after a fly ball to right by Ramirez and was joined on the bases by Perez in his first game back after dealing with concussion-like symptoms. Staring down their first scoring opportunity of the day, the Indians came away empty-handed as Bauers and Haase struck out on four pitches each to end the inning.
Bieber worked out of a jam again in the third. Pham doubled to right with one out and Choi worked a walk. Bieber responded with back-to-back Ks of Garcia and Brandon Lowe to leave a pair on base.
Snell had retired six in a row until the one-out mark of the fourth when Luplow got his second hit of the day. In an 0-1 count, he jumped on a high four-seamer and blasted it over the wall in right to tie the game at one. His home run was his sixth of the season and continued a strong return from Triple-A Columbus.
A high pitch count drove Bieber off of the mound after five. His final inning included two more strikeouts to give him ten on the night and a walk.
Oliver Perez, Adam Cimber, and Tyler Olson handled the sixth and the first two outs of the seventh. A.J. Cole came on in a dangerous spot in the top of the seventh, with Meadows at third (after his leadoff double off of Cimber and an advance to third on a groundout by Pham) and two outs in the inning, but he kept Garcia in the yard as he flied to center. The resurgent right-hander struck out the side in the top of the eighth to keep the game tied, setting the table for the Tribe’s late heroics.
The Indians moved to 26-24 on the year with the win and ended their four-game losing streak. The club is just 4-5 during their current eleven-game homestand with two to go over the weekend with Tampa. The Rays (29-19) fell two and a half games in back of the Yankees in the American League East.
Bieber needed 111 pitches to retire 15 batters. After showing great command in recent games, he walked four in his five innings of work, but he also struck out ten batters to give him double-digit K performances in back to back starts. His five-inning effort was his second-shortest start of the year (trailing only his two and one-third innings against Atlanta on April 21).
“It was just a really good game, a really tough game and just to be able to come out on top I think is gonna prove big for us going down the stretch,” said Bieber.
“They made Bieber work so hard and fortunately for us he was up to it,” said Tribe manager Terry Francona. “Every inning, every at-bat, he even said to me, `Man, their at-bats. They didn’t chase.’ But he also hung in there. I thought he really battled.”
Cole earned the win, his second, with an inning and one-third of perfect relief. He struck out three and needed just 15 pitches to record four outs. He lowered his ERA to 1.17 on the season.
Snell took a tough no-decision, a familiar trend for the left-hander this season. He worked six and two-thirds innings, allowing one run on four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. Alvarado took the loss (his fourth of the year) after allowing two runs on two hits with three walks and just eleven strikes thrown out of 25 pitches in an inning-plus of work.
The Rays went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded ten on base.
The two teams will meet up again in a 4:10 PM ET first pitch on Saturday afternoon. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (4-4, 4.30 ERA) will look to get back on track after a short performance and a loss his last time out against Oakland. Fellow right-hander Charlie Morton (4-0, 2.65) will look to stay perfect on the season and to move above .500 against the Indians in his career. He is 2-2 lifetime in four starts with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.
Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire (via Getty Images)