Jul 8, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Michael Brantley (23) reaches for a two-RBI double by Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings (not pictured) in the sixth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
Chris Perez started the season with a blown save, and he ended the unofficial first of the season with one. The good news is that between those two blown saves the Indians haven't lost a game when they led going into the eighth inning with a lead.
But the Indians did miss an opportunity to end the first half of the season with three straight series wins against playoff contenders, and possibly pick up a game on the White Sox. Instead, they'll go into the All-Star Break being at least 3 games in back of Chicago and just a half-game ahead the surging Detroit Tigers.
Of course the game should not have been in doubt going into the ninth. Zach McAllister cruised through the first five innings, but two defensive miscues by Asdrubal Cabrera led to four unearned runs, putting the Rays back into the game. After McAllister recorded the first out in the inning, Carlos Pena got an infield single on a ball that Cabrera should have delivered to first base on time. Ben Zobrist then hit a sharp grounder to second, but Cabrera just dropped the throw from Kipnis. It's possible that play could have turned into an inning-ending double play, but at the very least it should have been a force out at second. That seemed to unnerve McAllister, who suddenly started giving up hard-hit balls, starting with a Luke Scott double that drove home two. After a walk, Desmond Jennings doubled, scoring another two. While all four runs will show up on the box score as unearned, McAllister at the very least deserves a share of the blame here. Errors and bloop hits are going to happen, and starter's job is to minimize the damage done.
With today being the last day before the All-Star Break, Manny Acta could be aggressive with his bullpen, so he pulled McAllister with two outs in the sixth, bringing on Joe Smith to get the final out of the inning. Tony Sipp, who seems to be back on form, got the final out of the seventh, and Vinnie Pestano, though he allowed a couple base runners, got out of the eighth unscathed. But the run of scoreless ball stopped in the ninth, for even though the Indians had scored an insurance (Choo homered off Joel Peralta in the eighth), Perez couldn't hold the lead. He gave up a home run to light-hitting Will Rhymes (it was just his second homer as major leaguer), then allowed a line drive single to Elliot Johnson. Carlos Pena then had the hit of the game a line drive in the gap that went all the way to the wall when Michael Brantley dove for it and just missed it; that tied the game, and placed the go-ahead run at third with just one out. Ben Zobrist mashed a single down the line to give the Rays the lead for the first time since Friday's game.
The two bad innings erased a nice offensive day. The Indians scored five runs off James Shield on 10 hits and two walks. Casey Kotchman was the hitting star, with three hits on the day, including a fourth inning solo homer. He also got things going in the second with a two-run single. But Kotchman couldn't come through in the ninth with the tying run on third; he grounded out to second to end the Cleveland threat, the game, and the first half of the season.