CLEVELAND (AP)—The Indians lost the game, but didn’t lose any ground.
Cleveland came up short of a comeback against Tampa Bay, losing 5-4 Tuesday night to remain two games behind first-place Chicago in the AL Central. The Indians lead the wild-card standings but have the same record as Boston and New York, who are tied atop the AL East.
The Indians, who trailed the White Sox by 15 games on Aug. 1, promised to do what they have done all year—put the loss behind them and move on.
“We’ll just come back tomorrow and go at it again,” Indians outfielder Coco Crisp said.
“We couldn’t get to Kazmir. He was the story,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
Former Indians pitcher Danys Baez got Ronnie Belliard to hit into a game-ending double play with the tying run on third, handing Cleveland consecutive losses for the first time since Sept. 3-4 at Minnesota.
“We knew Cleveland would come back at us. What a big double play at the end,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “This is a good win against a team that’s really been playing great.”
The announcement of Chicago’s 3-2 loss drew one of the biggest cheers of the night. The Indians noticed as well, but downplayed their scoreboard watching.
“If we watched as much as you guys would like us to watch, we wouldn’t have time to play the game,” Wedge told reporters.
The Indians have struggled against Tampa Bay this season, getting swept in a three-game series at Jacobs Field in mid-August. They have two games remaining against the Devil Rays before a three-game home series against Chicago to finish the season.
“We need to remember the adversity that we overcame this year,” Indians right fielder Casey Blake said. “Hopefully, that will help us the next five games.”
Baez allowed Victor Martinez’s RBI single to center in the ninth before earning his 40th save in 48 chances.
Kazmir walked five but worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second and left another two stranded in the third.
He allowed one run and four hits to improve to 4-1 in September. He gave up eight runs in 2 1-3 innings in his last appearance against Cleveland on Aug. 25.
“We all know their situation,” Kazmir said. “We came in here knowing we’re facing a very hot team with a lot on the line. That’s why this was a good win. But we’ve been playing all the contenders very tough for the last couple months.”
Last-place Tampa Bay has a winning record against the Indians, Yankees, Angels and A’s.
Scott Elarton (11-8) fell to 0-3 against the Devil Rays this season after allowing five runs and 10 hits in five innings. He had been Cleveland’s top pitcher this month, going 4-0 in his last four starts with three earned runs.
“For whatever reason, I just had a hard time with these guys,” Elarton said.
Lugo’s homer in the fourth inning made it 4-0, and Alex Gonzalez hit his ninth home run in the sixth.
Aaron Boone’s two-out RBI single in the sixth made it 5-1.
Kazmir, who leads the league in walks, walked the bases loaded with two outs in the second. But Joey Gathright made a leaping catch on Blake’s liner to the warning track to end the inning.
Tampa Bay led off the game with three straight hits to take a 1-0 lead on Jorge Cantu’s single. But Elarton got two groundouts and a popout to get out of the jam.
The Indians are 3-5 against Tampa Bay this season. … Kazmir’s six strikeouts helped him surpass Tony Saunders’ club record of 172 set in 1998. … Cleveland stranded 11 runners. … Kazmir and Elarton entered Tuesday night having allowed the fewest earned runs in the AL in September.