ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 18: Infielder Jason Kipnis #22 and outfielder Michael Brantley #23 of the Cleveland Indians congratulate Carlos Santana #41 after his three run home run in the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on July 18, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Through the first four innings, things couldn't have looked more depressing. You had Justin Masterson, Cleveland's putative ace, getting smacked around by the Rays, with Tampa Bay looking at least a couple notches livelier than the Indians. Listless play, bad starting, and about to go to 2-4 on the road trip with David Price looming tomorrow.
Then something clicked, and the Indians suddenly turned into a hot baseball team.
A start after shutting down one of the best lineups in the AL, Justin Masterson couldn't hit the broad side of a barn against one of the worst offenses in the AL. Justin allowed 4 runs on 7 hits and 7 walks. Obviously he didn't last long, but unlike other recent short outings, the Tribe bullpen kept the game within reach. Esmil Rogers was brought in to the game after Masterson loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, and did his job, striking out Elliot Johnson and getting a ground ball out from B.J. Upton.
That escape was the turning point in the game, as the Indians offense had just scored three runs in the top of the inning. Had the Rays tacked on a couple runs to push the lead back to 3 or 4 runs, that might have stifled the rally that was in store later in the game.
Jeremy Hellickson left after six innings, and Kyle Farnsworth entered. The Tampa Bay bullpen had been perfect in the first two games of the series, and Farnsworth retired the first two batters of the inning to extend the streak. With two outs, Choo singled, which was followed by an Asdrubal Cabrera single. Joe Maddon brought in southpaw reliever Jake McGee to face Jason Kipnis and end the threat, but Kipnis fought off fastball after fastball before lining an RBI single up the middle, tying the game at 4. Earlier in the at-bat, Kipnis got the benefit of a borderline call, and after Kipnis' hit, went to the mound with the express purpose of getting thrown out. His wish was granted.
The Kipnis hit opened the floodgates, as the next three Indians would get base hits, extended the hit streak to 6 straight with two outs. Michael Brantley gave the Indians the lead on a sharp single, and then the big blow came when Carlos Santana finally hit his 6th home run of the year, a three-run bomb blasted out to the deepest part of Tropicana Field. Santana has looked better lately, but he hadn't been hitting for power. The Indians would tack on another run to give them an 8-4 lead, and they'd hold on despite some iffy bullpen performances from Tony Sipp and Jeremy Accardo.