Things got so bad in the Indians’ 9-6 loss that it was hard to remember that they actually held a 2-0 lead at one time. But that was quickly forgotten in a rash of base-running mistakes, a costly error and some uncharacteristically poor relief pitching for the second straight night.
The Indians (78-57) stayed 4.5 games behind Minnesota (83-52) in the AL Central. The Twins lost to the Tigers, 10-7, on Saturday night. Despite the loss, the Indians still lead the A’s (78-57) and Rays (79-58) by a half-game for the first wild-card spot. The A’s lost to the Yankees, 4-3, in 11 innings.
Indians starter Zach Plesac (7-5, 3.61) lost for the second time in his last three starts. He allowed four runs on four hits in five innings.
Carlos Santana gave the Indians 2-0 lead with a homer in the first inning. It was Santana’s 31st homer of the season and gave him eight for the month of August.
But that’s all the offense the Indians could generate until Francisco Lindor hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Greg Allen followed with a two-run double in the ninth. Rays manager Kevin Cash dumped opener Diego Castillo after just 1 1/3 innings and then went to the bullpen six times to baffle the Tribe. Jalen Beeks (6-3) was the winner and Emilio Pagan pitched the ninth for the save.
Besides not hitting when it counted, the Indians did not run the bases well.
Lindor opened the third with a single. Santana followed with a double off the left-field wall as third base coach Mike Sarbaugh waved Lindor home. Lindor was an easy out at the plate thanks to good relay work by center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and shortstop Joey Wendle.
“Sarbie (Sarbaugh) got a good look at it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he thought the throw was going to go over the cut-off man’s head.”
Franmil Reyes hit a ball off the wall in left field with one out in the fourth. He tried to stretch it into a double and was an easy out.
“The ball was off the wall,” Francona said. “He’s not the fastest guy, but sometimes he’s going to have to settle for singles. I know he doesn’t want to, and we appreciate the hustle, but he’s just not blessed with the best speed in the world.”
Plesac, working on a full week’s rest, lost his 2-0 lead within the first three innings. Ji-Man Choi hit a leadoff homer in the second and Tommy Pham hit a towering two-run homer in the third for a 3-2 lead.
“They spit on some good pitches tonight,” Plesac said. "Somebody came up to me later in the game and said I may have been tipping some pitches. You never know. You make a good pitch and they take it and you start thinking like that.
“But I’m not making excuses. If I was in the zone more, I probably would have got more swings.”
The Rays put the game away with three runs in the sixth as they sent nine men to the plate. Plesac opened the inning with a walk and Tyler Clippard relieved. Clippard had allowed just two runs in his previous 16 games. His stinginess ended Saturday night.
He struck out Choi, but gave up a two-run homer to Avisail Garcia to make it a 5-2 game. Yasiel Puig made a diving catch in right field against Kiermaier for the second out, but the Rays kept rolling. Matt Duffy walked and Clippard hit Wendle, the No. 9 hitter, with a pitch.
Hunter Wood, the former Rays reliever, replaced Clippard and made the situation worse. He allowed an RBI single to Eric Sogard and walked Pham before ending the inning.
The Rays scored three more runs in the seventh for a 9-2 lead. Wood started the inning by allowing a homer to Travis d’Arnaud and singles to Choi and Garcia. Phil Maton relieved and loaded the bases with a walk to Kiermaier. Duffy sent a grounder to first that Santana stopped with a dive. He touched first to retire Duffy, but made a wild throw home as two runs scored.
Lindor’s homer in the eighth gave him 26 for the season. Jason Kipnis left the game in the seventh inning with a sore right wrist. Kipnis, who homered twice against the Tigers on Wednesday, has gone 0-for-7 in the first two games against the Rays.
The season series between the Indians and Rays ends on Sunday. The Rays lead, 5-1.
Indians right-hander Adam Plutko will start the final regular-season game between the Indians and Rays on Sunday at Tropicana Field. Plutko (6-3, 4.34) is 3-1 in his last five starts. The Rays will start Charlie Morton (13-6, 3.11). SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM will carry the game.
Plutko will be making his second career start against the Rays. On May 23 at Progressive Field, he allowed a career-high seven runs on a career-high 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Rays. Morton is 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA in five career starts against the Tribe.