June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Tribe not happy to see Rays leave

Chris Assenheimer

The Gazette

CLEVELAND — The Tampa Bay Rays left Cleveland on Thursday and will not return the rest of the season.

That’s good news for them and bad news for the Indians.

The Indians’ continued their dominance of the defending American League champions at their home park, where Cleveland edged the Rays, 2-1, to complete a four-game sweep.

Tampa Bay lost for the 17th consecutive time at Progressive/Jacobs Field, where the Rays have not won a game since 2005. Over that span, the Indians have recorded four consecutive four-game sweeps.

“It is odd,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said of his team’s overwhelming success at home against the Rays.

“I feel like they’re a very good team. They’re tough to match up against because of their athleticism and speed.

“It’s tough to get a four-game sweep at this level. The guys are really coming together and playing much better baseball.”

None of the Rays’ positive qualities mattered much to the Indians, who used Tampa Bay to record their first four-game winning streak of the season, and have now won seven of their last nine games after beginning the day 7½ games out of first place in the Central Division.

For the third straight game of the series the American League rivals endured a rain delay, this one lasting two hours and 40 minutes. Cleveland led 1-0 with one out and Ryan Garko at the plate with one strike in the bottom of the fourth inning when the delay came.

Neither starting pitcher — Cleveland’s David Huff or Tampa Bay’s Jeff Nieman — returned after the delay, Huff working four scoreless innings on four hits, while Nieman allowed one run on Victor Martinez’s grounder in the third through three innings.

Huff struggled to a 17.55 ERA in his first two big league starts, but was effective in his third, however brief it was.

“It’s obvious he’s becoming a lot more composed with each start,” said Wedge, who said the 24-year-old left-hander would remain in the rotation.

“As far as execution, I was a lot better,” said Huff, who worked behind for much of his outing. “The bottom line is that I have to pitch first-pitch strikes. I’ve got to get ahead of hitters.”

The Indians led 2-0 after another RBI from Martinez in the fifth when the Rays finally got on the board — but in controversial fashion.

With out in the sixth, Willie Aybar drove a Jensen Lewis pitch deep to right, where it appeared to land on the yellow line atop the wall. According to Progressive Field ground rules, the ball has to land above the line for it to be a home run.

Wedge argued the call from first-base umpire Angel Hernandez, who agreed to review the play. Hernandez ruled it was a homer and different angles of television replays supported his case.

That’s all the Rays got off Indians pitching, with Cleveland getting another positive performance from its bullpen outside of Lewis.

Owning a tenuous lead, the trio of Matt Herges, Rafael Betancourt and closer Kerry Wood combined to blank the Rays on one hit over the final 3 2/3 innings.

Cleveland’s bullpen, which has harpooned plenty of would-be victories this year, has been much more effective as of late.

“We really have been pushing that bullpen, but they’ve done a fantastic job,” Wedge said.

Herges, a 40-year-old veteran but a relative newcomer to Cleveland’s relief corps, provided the biggest lift, coming on for Lewis to strike out pinch hitter Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler for the final two outs of the inning, before working a scoreless seventh on one hit.

“I really haven’t been here long but I do know we want to be the backbone of this team,” Herges said. “You can’t really win without your bullpen functioning well, and right now, we’re functioning well.”

Betancourt walked the first batter he faced in the eighth before retiring the next three hitters in order — two on strikeouts.

That left Wood to finish things off, which he did in fast fashion, retiring the side in order on seven pitches. Wood needed just three pitches to strike out B.J. Upton for the final out and his eighth save in 10 opportunities.

Thanks to the lengthy rain delay, the game took five hours and 28 minutes to complete.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.