Devil Rays 1, Indians 0
CLEVELAND (AP)—Aaron Boone sat silently in his recliner at the far end of the Indians’ quiet clubhouse, his only companions two ice wraps to help comfort a season’s worth of bumps and bruises.
On Wednesday night, the pain was a little deeper.
“I just didn’t get it done,” said Boone, who failed to get a sacrifice bunt down in the eighth inning of Cleveland’s 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay. “It’s frustrating.”
Suddenly, there’s another AL Central team cracking under the pressure.
And for the Indians, it’s happening at the worst time possible.
McClung (7-11) allowed four hits and only two runners to reach second base while outpitching Cliff Lee (18-5) and handing the Indians their third straight setback—the club’s first three-game slide since being swept by the Devil Rays on Aug. 12-14.
The second-place Indians, who trailed the White Sox by 15 games on Aug. 1, host Chicago for three games to end the regular season. But by Friday, it might not matter who they play or where.
“It’s still in our hands,” said Lee, who lost for the first time since July 8. “It’s just going to be a little tougher.”
Despite the loss, the Indians stayed tied for the wild-card lead with Boston, which lost 7-2 to Toronto.
Cleveland’s Ben Broussard opened the bottom half with a double. Boone, though, twice failed to bunt him over before grounding out to third. Boone popped the first pitch straight back before his second attempt trickled foul down the first-base line.
“I can count on one hand how many times I’ve screwed that up,” he said.
After Boone’s failed tries, Casey Blake bounced out and Grady Sizemore popped out to end Cleveland’s best scoring threat against McClung, who is 3-0 with a 1.77 ERA in three starts this season against the Indians.
“He had intensity tonight,” said Hall, the Devil Rays’ catcher. “He sensed blood and went after it.”
The Indians, who have been staging a season-long comeback, got a leadoff single from Coco Crisp in the ninth. But closer Danys Baez, who got Ronnie Belliard to hit into a game-ending double play on Tuesday, made Jhonny Peralta hit into one before retiring Travis Hafner on an easy grounder for his 41st save—and 28th since the All-Star break.
The Devil Rays have four shutouts this season—two against the Indians.
“I’m not thinking about their playoff run,” said McClung, who came in with a 7.11 ERA. “Tonight, I was just trying to beat them. I don’t need to be thinking spoiler to be motivated.”
Boone credited McClung with handing the Indians a loss they might dwell on for months.
“We look up and see that 7.00 ERA,” Boone said. “We haven’t seen that guy yet. He was tough. He was in control of the game, but we couldn’t mount anything.”
Belliard made a remarkable defensive play at second base in the seventh to thwart a potential Tampa Bay rally and keep it scoreless.
With a runner at first, Aubrey Huff hit a grounder toward center that Belliard stopped with a headlong dive. While lying face down, Belliard blindly flipped the ball backhanded and behind his back to Peralta at second for the force, drawing a gasp from the crowd and a lengthy standing ovation.
“That was one of the best plays you’ll ever see at second base,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
Belliard had a chance for more heroics in the bottom of the inning. Victor Martinez doubled with two outs for Cleveland’s third hit off McClung, but he was left stranded when Belliard struck out.
Tempers flared briefly in the fourth inning when Crisp and Hall exchanged words near home plate, briefly emptying both benches and bullpens. As McClung stared in at his target, Crisp, who goes through a lengthy routine before each pitch, was taking his time before getting into the batter’s box.
The delay agitated Hall, who motioned for Crisp to step in before the players had to be separated by plate umpire Rick Reed and Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella, in the unusual role of peacemaker.
Later, all was forgiven.
“We kissed and made up,” Crisp said.
The Indians have sold out all three weekend games for their showdown series against the White Sox. … In Mark Hendrickson and Scott Kazmir, the Devil Rays have two 10-game winners for the first time in club history. … With 92 wins, the Indians have won more games than the Cleveland teams in 1997, 1998 and 2001 that won AL Central titles. … Indians RHP Bob Howry made his 76th appearance, breaking Sid Monge’s club record (1979).