The Tampa Bay Rays cut further into the Cleveland Indians Wild Card edge on Saturday, using four home runs to push past the visiting club in a 9-6 final.
The Indians pitching staff was no match for the Rays lineup in the middle game of three from Tropicana Field as the host Tampa club quieted the Tribe bats for much of the evening despite Cleveland holding a two-run first inning lead. Tampa took the lead in the third on its second homer of the contest, then added on with a pair of three-run innings in the sixth and seventh to put the Tribe to bed.
Rays manager Kevin Cash opted for the bullpen game in game two, but the Indians were able to strike through with a pair of first inning runs against Diego Castillo. With one down in the inning, Oscar Mercado singled to left. Carlos Santana took the count full before sending a laser beam over the right field wall for his 31st homer of the season, putting the Tribe up by a two-count.
Rookie righty Zach Plesac drew the starting nod for the Indians on Saturday, but the Rays chipped away at him throughout his outing. After Tommy Pham was stranded after a one-out single in the first, the Rays got on the board in the second the easy way as Ji-Man Choi homered to right to make it a 2-1 game.
The Indians threatened against Jalen Beeks in the third inning in his second inning of action in relief of Castillo. Francisco Lindor singled to right before a liner to right by Mercado. Santana screamed a doubled to the gap in left-center, but Lindor was gunned down at the plate for the second out. Santana, who moved up to third on the throw, was left stranded at third as Yasiel Puig grounded out to second.
The Rays got to Plesac again in the bottom of the third. Joey Wendle flied to center for the first out before Eric Sogard singled to center. Plesac fell behind 3-1 to Pham before he drove the right-hander’s four-seamer deep to left to put Tampa on top, 3-2.
Beeks gave up a single to Franmil Reyes in the fourth, but he was thrown out trying to advance to second. He left with one out in the fifth after a leadoff single by Greg Allen and a liner to second by Yu Chang, but Oliver Drake took over and got a key double play to keep the Indians offense at bay.
Plesac stranded a runner at third in the fifth after Wendle opened the inning with a double and moved to third on a groundout by Sogard, but Pham and Austin Meadows each flied out to strand the runner at third. Plesac was less lucky in the sixth, as he walked the leadoff man Travis d’Arnaud before turning the game over to the Tribe bullpen. Manager Terry Francona went to Tyler Clippard, who got Choi swinging for the first out before Avisail Garcia launched a moonshot 446 feet to left to extend the Rays’ lead to 5-2. Clippard put two more on with two outs as Matt Duffy walked and Wendle was hit by a pitch. Hunter Wood, the former Rays reliever, came on and gave up an RBI-single to Sogard to make it a three-run inning and a four-run lead. Pham walked to load the bases before Wood got out of it with a Meadows’ foul out to left.
Chaz Roe retired the Tribe in order in the seventh before the Rays tacked on three more after the stretch. Travis d’Arnaud opened the inning with his 15th homer of the season to make it a 7-2 game. Choi and Garcia followed with singles, bringing Francona back out of the dugout for right-hander Phil Maton. He promptly walked Kevin Kiermaier on four straight balls after a first pitch strike to load the bases. Duffy grounded to Santana at first, but his throwing error to the plate allowed both Choi and Garcia to score to push the Rays’ lead to 9-2. Maton got the next two, but the damage was done.
The Indians finally got back on the board in the eighth and they used a similar method to their score from the first frame. With one out against Ricardo Pinto, Chang singled to left-center and came in to score on a two-run home run to right-center by Lindor. His 26th of the year made it a 9-4 game.
Maton retired the side in order in the bottom of the eighth to bring the Tribe down to its last three outs. Cleveland gave it a go and turned the game into a save situation, but could not carve all five runs off its deficit down. Mike Freeman drew a four-pitch walk off of Pinto to kick start the inning. Reyes singled to right. Roberto Perez moved both runners up with a grounder to first for the first out. Allen got the Tribe back on the board with a two-run double to center to make it a 9-6 game, bringing manager Cash out of the dugout for Emilio Pagan. He quieted the Tribe’s rally, striking out Chang looking before Lindor popped to short to end the contest.
The Indians dropped to 79-57 with the defeat, seeing their lead over the Rays (79-58) shrink to just a half game in the American League Wild Card race. Tampa now trails Oakland by a half game for the second Wild Card spot.
Plesac left after five-plus, allowing four runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts. He dropped to 7-5 on the year with the loss. Three of four Tribe pitchers were tagged with runs on the evening, with only Maton coming away unscathed.
Beeks earned his sixth win of the season for his three shutout innings of four-hit baseball. Pagan, who had to come on in the three-run game in the top of the ninth, earned his 16th save of the year.
Reyes had three singles in four trips for the Tribe on Saturday to push his AL average up to .249. Lindor, Santana, and Allen each had three hits. Kipnis left the game in the seventh inning with right wrist discomfort and was replaced by Freeman.
Prior to the game, the Indians announced that outfielder Tyler Naquin would miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL in Friday night’s game with the Rays. Outfielder/first baseman Jake Bauers was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to take Naquin’s spot on the 25-man roster.
The Indians will look to avoid a costly sweep at the hands of the Rays in Sunday’s series finale from Tampa, but it will not come easily. The Rays will send All-Star right-hander Charlie Morton (13-6, 3.11 ERA) to the mound, while the Indians counter with fellow right-hander Adam Plutko (6-3, 4.34).
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