Asdrubal Cabrera made a costly error and Chris Perez blew his first save since Opening Day as the Indians ended the inaccurately dubbed “first half” of the 2012 season with a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. The loss drops the Tribe t0 44-41, three games behind the division-leading White Sox and just a half-game ahead of the third-place Tigers.
Just because Rays starter James Shields is known as one of the best pitchers in baseball doesn’t mean the Indians couldn’t hit him. Cleveland opened the scoring in the bottom of the second, as Casey Kotchman‘s one-out single brought Travis Hafner home from third. The scoring continued in the third as Johnny Damon hit a leadoff triple, then scored on Shields’ errant pickoff throw. Jason Kipnis hit a two-run double and scored as Jeff Keppinger misplayed Hafner’s would-be groundout to put the Tribe up 3-0.
The onslaught continued in the middle innings, led by Kotchman. He lined Shields’ 2-1 pitch into the stands to lead off the fourth inning with a solo shot, then added another insurance run with an RBI single to score Kipnis in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Indians a commanding 5-0 lead.
But the cushion wouldn’t last long. With one out and a runner at second in the top of the sixth, Ben Zobrist hit what would have been an easy force out to Kipnis, but Cabrera dropped the relay throw. B.J. Upton‘s subsequent flyout should have ended the inning, but the Rays took advantage of the extra out as Luke Scott and Desmond Jennings both hit two-run doubles to cut Cleveland’s lead to 5-4.
The Tribe added an insurance run on Shin-Soo Choo‘s solo shot in the eighth, but a two-run lead wasn’t enough. Chris Perez gave up a one-out homer to Will Rhymes in the top of the ninth. An Elliot Johnson single, a Carlos Pena triple, and a Ben Zobrist base hit later, the Rays had taken the lead. The Indians fought for it in the bottom of the ninth against Fernando Rodney and twice stayed alive after getting down to their last strike, but they ultimately could not score as Tampa Bay held on for a 7-6 comeback win.
The Good: What an outing it was for Zach McAllister. The rookie right-hander went 5.2 strong innings, holding the Rays to four hits without giving up any earned runs (all four of the runs he allowed in the sixth were unearned). What’s more impressive, he struck out eight Rays batters against only three walks.
On the other side of the ball, the Tribe’s offensive MVP was Casey Kotchman. Though he swung at the first pitch and grounded out to end the game with the winning run at first base, he went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBI on the day. Michael Brantley also had a stellar afternoon, going 3-for-4 with a double and a walk.
The Bad: Everyone has a bad day once in a while, but Asdrubal Cabrera’s sixth-inning error was just hard to watch. As a shortstop with serious range-related shortcomings he needs to make all the routine plays in order to earn his keep defensively, yet his flubbing a soft toss from Kipnis cost the Indians the game.
It was also a rough day for Chris Perez, who gave up three runs in the ninth (including a home run) to blow the save and turn a close win into a heartbreaking loss. It’s only one game and it was his first blown save since Opening Day, but losses like this sting for a while. On the bright side, Perez managed to strike out the side in between getting rocked.
The “Huh?”: With the tying run on first and one out in the top of the ninth, Carlos Pena hit a line drive to center field that proved to be just out of Michael Brantley’s reach. He dove for the ball and just missed it as it rolled all the way to the wall for a game-tying triple. In the heat of the moment it’s hard to blame Brantley for taking a leap of faith and he came pretty close to getting it, but in a situation like that the risks of diving outweigh the benefits. It’s the same logic behind outfielders playing no-doubles defense—you give up the hit to prevent extra-bases. Had Brantley conceded the single the Rays would not have tied the game (at least not yet) and Perez might have been able to escape the inning with the lead intact.
Interesting Tidbit: Sunday’s outing brought Zach McAllister’s strikeout rate up to 8.7 K/9. The last right-handed starter to strike out more than a batter an inning in a full season in an Indians uniform was Bartolo Colon, who fanned 212 batters in 188 innings (10.2 K/9) in 2000.