That changed Friday night with a small twist. Aguilar hit a three-run homer while wearing the uniform of the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Indians, 4-0, at Tropicana Field.
The loss dropped the Indians (79-56) to 4.5 games off the pace in the AL Central. The first-place Twins (83-51) beat the Tigers, 13-5. The Tribe’s grip on the AL’s first wild card spot fell to a half-game over the A’s (78-56) and 1.5 games ahead of the Rays (78-58).
Aguilar spent nine seasons with the Indians, most of them in the minors. He didn’t establish himself until 2018 with the Brewers, when he hit 35 homers and went to the All-Star Game. He struggled this year and was traded to the Rays in July.
Friday night, the man who hit 140 homers in the minors for the Tribe, hit his first one in the big leagues that had a direct connection to his old team and it hurt.
“It was a great feeling,” said Aguilar, when asked if he felt any extra satisfaction from homering against the Tribe. “The most important thing is we won. I think this is the most important series of the year. We’ve got to show what we’ve got.”
The loss wasn’t the only thing that hurt the Indians. Outfielder Tyler Naquin, having his best season since his rookie year in 2016, left the game with a sprained right knee after running into the left field wall in the fifth inning.
“He’s getting an MRI now,” said manager Terry Francona, immediately after the game. “I think it’s premature to play doctor. Obviously, it didn’t look good and we’re very concerned. But we’ll wait to get the result.”
Naquin was injured when he hit the fence in left field after making a great catch against Joey Wendle to end the fifth. It robbed Wendle of extra bases and saved a run.
Center fielder Oscar Mercado rushed to Naquin’s side and signaled for help from the bench. Naquin was carted off the field. It was later announced that Naquin had suffered a sprained right knee.
Shane Bieber (12-7, 3.27) lost his third straight decision, but it’s hard to say he pitched poorly. He allowed three runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings. Bieber struck out nine and didn’t walk a batter.
“It was a frustrating game for everybody,” Bieber said. “I’m just thinking about him (Naquin) and hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible. We’re just thinking about him."
The game was scoreless until the seventh when Austin Meadows hit a leadoff single and hustled to third on Travis d’Arnaud’s run-and-hit bloop single to center. Bieber struck out Ji-Man Choi, but Avisail Garcia singled between short and third to score Meadows for a 1-0 lead.
Adam Cimber relieved and retired Wendle on a bouncer back to the mound, but Aguilar hit is 1-1 pitch into the left field seats for a 4-0 lead.
Austin Pruitt, Oliver Drake (3-1), Colin Poche and Andrew Kittredge combined on the shutout. It’s the 12th time they’ve been shutout this season.
“We were probably too anxious,” DH Franmil Reyes said. “I don’t like to say a player is a bad play, but their pitcher tonight he had a normal fastball, a normal slider. I would say we were too anxious.”
The Indians mounted one scoring chance against Pruitt, who was making his first start in over a year (Aug. 18, 2018). Roberto Perez singled with two out and went to second on Naquin’s double.
Yu Chang had the right idea as he sent a ball toward the vacant hole between first and second base, but second baseman Eric Sogard swooped in, fielded the ball and threw Chang out at first.
Pruitt allowed one hit after that until he was replace by Drake, who pitched for the Tribe last year, with one out in the sixth. He struck out six and allowed four hits in 5 1/3 innings.
The Tribe had one hit after the third inning, a single by Reyes off shortstop Willy Adames’ glove in the seventh inning.
“Early on we had hits and we couldn’t push anything across,” said Francona. "They do such a good job using their bullpen. They brought in Ollie (Drake) to face our lefties. I thought we hit a couple balls that had a chance, but they just died.
Rookie right-hander Zach Plesac (7-4) will face the Rays on Saturday night at Tropicana Field. Game time is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. with SportsTime Ohio, WTAM 1100 and WMMS 100.7 FM carrying the game.
Plesac will be making his 17th start this season and will be facing the Rays for the first time. He’s coming off a win over the Royals in which he allowed one run on four hits in 5 2/3 innings. The Tribe is 7-1 in his last eight starts.
Diego Castillo (2-8, 3.76) will start for the Rauys.