The Indians (67-54) were a half-game behind Detroit entering this series, but won 2-1 Friday night as the Tigers fell to the New York Yankees. That gave Cleveland sole possession of the division lead for the first time in nearly a week.
Cleveland also stranded 14 runners but received a solid start from Paul Byrd, who gave up one run and eight hits in six innings.
“As a pitcher, you want to pick your team up,” Byrd said. “I think that’s what being a good team is all about. People made good adjustments and they pick each other up and they find a way to win the game when it’s close.”
Carl Crawford had an RBI single for the Devil Rays, and is hitting .486 (34-for-70) with 18 runs in his last 17 games.
Jake Westbrook (3-7, 5.01 ERA), who is still trying to get back on track after a difficult start to the season, gets the start for the Indians.
Westbrook lost against the Yankees on Sunday, allowing four runs and nine hits in seven innings of a 5-3 loss. The right-hander, who spent six weeks on the disabled list earlier in the season because of a strained abdominal muscle, had allowed only one run in his previous two starts combined.
“Jake threw the ball as good as I’ve seen him throw it,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge told the Indians’ official Web site. “I know he’s not happy because we lost the ballgame, but he did his part. No doubt.”
Westbrook is 5-2 with a 3.89 ERA in 11 starts against the Devil Rays, who he’ll face for the third time this season. He didn’t record a decision in those other two outings despite a 2.57 ERA.
Jason Hammel (1-2, 6.63) counters for the Devil Rays, again looking for his first major league win as a starter. The right-hander is 0-8 with a 7.55 ERA in 14 career starts - he pitched 2 1-3 perfect innings of relief on June 18 against Arizona for his only career win.
Hammel allowed five runs and seven hits in four innings on Sunday against Texas in a 9-1 loss. He threw 91 pitches, walking four while striking out one.
“His velocity was there, but the overall command was not there with any of his pitches,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon told the Devil Rays’ official Web site. “That got us into trouble.”
The Devil Rays, who have the worst record in the majors, fell to 26-34 at home this season with Friday’s loss and appear headed to their ninth last-place finish in 10 years. Before the game, Tampa Bay’s principal owner Stuart Sternberg weighed in on the team’s struggles, calling them “unacceptable.”
“I have to accept it because I have no choice,” he said. “Each person in the organization has to look at themselves in the mirror and say what can they do to contribute to the success of this organization on a daily basis.”