The AL East-leading Rays will try to secure a rare victory against Cleveland on Monday, when they face Indians ace Cliff Lee in the opener of a three-game set at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay (66-44) is enjoying the finest season in its 11-year franchise history, with one of the few lowlights a four-game sweep at Cleveland (48-62) from July 10-13.
The Rays’ struggles against the Indians extend far beyond 2008, as they have dropped 18 of 21 matchups with Cleveland since the start of 2006. Each of those wins have come at home, where the Rays are an AL-best 43-16 this season.
Tampa Bay has also won 14 of its last 15 home series. The Rays completed a three-game sweep of Detroit on Sunday with a 6-5 win on Carlos Pena’s bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning.
“I just love the fact we did not give up,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose club trailed 2-0 after the sixth inning before rallying for its fifth straight victory overall.
Tampa Bay is now 11-5 since facing Cleveland, but to improve on that mark the Rays must find a way to beat Lee (14-2, 2.58 ERA), who has compiled a 1.57 ERA to win his last three outings against the Rays, including a six-inning stint during a 5-0 Cleveland home win on July 11.
The All-Star left-hander is also 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA in his last four starts overall, but wasn’t at his best Wednesday. He allowed a season high-tying six runs and 10 hits in five innings of a 14-12, 13-inning loss to the Tigers.
“I’ve got to get ahead and mix up my pitches more,” Lee, the AL’s ERA leader, told the Indians’ official Web site. “I think I got a little predictable with what I was doing.”
When Lee takes the mound at Tampa Bay, he will be one of three starters vying to join Arizona’s Brandon Webb as the only pitchers in the majors with 15 victories. The Los Angeles Angels’ Joe Saunders and Colorado’s Aaron Cook are also slated to pitch Monday.
Lee gets the ball after the Indians dropped to 1-2 on their nine-game road trip, following a 6-2 loss at AL Central-leading Minnesota on Sunday. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, and 5-for-26 in RBI situations during the three-game series.
“We had a lot of chances to get runs,” left fielder Franklin Gutierrez told the Indians’ site. “We didn’t do it and they did.”
Cleveland will try to generate more offense against Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza (9-6, 3.56), who is coming off of his first career shutout - a five-hitter in a 3-0 victory at Toronto on Tuesday. He struck five and benefited from three double plays.
Garza is 2-1 with a 1.66 ERA over his last three starts, and 6-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 10 home outings this season.
The right-hander, however, hasn’t fared well versus the Indians, going 0-2 with a 5.85 ERA in four career starts. On July 12 at Cleveland, he gave up seven earned runs and 11 hits - both season highs - in five innings of an 8-4 loss.