The Cleveland Indians have a chance to head into the All-Star break with a fifth win in six games.
A rare series victory against the Tampa Bay Rays also will be within their grasp Sunday at Progressive Field.
Although the Indians (44-40) spent 35 consecutive days atop the AL Central, reaching the break in second place is a nice accomplishment for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2007.
Since losing a season-high five straight, Cleveland has won seven of 10 and enters the final day of the first half three games behind the Chicago White Sox and 1 1/2 ahead of Detroit.
"Everybody should feel like they have a chance to win it, and I like that," manager Manny Acta told the Indians' official website. "People like to call it weak because one team is not running away with it and the rest of them are 20, 25 games out. That's not what baseball is all about, that's not the way it's supposed to be."
A victory in Sunday's finale would give the Indians their first series win against Tampa Bay (44-41) since a four-game sweep May 25-28, 2009. The Rays have won the last five series between the clubs.
Ubaldo Jimenez struck out eight over six innings and Shelley Duncan continued his power surge with a two-run homer to help the Indians win 7-3 on Saturday. Five of Cleveland's eight hits were doubles and the major league leaders in walks also received six free passes.
Duncan, whose wife gave birth to twin sons Thursday, has four homers and seven RBIs in his last six games.
The Rays have lost eight of 11 on the road after a 10-3 stretch away from Tropicana Field.
Luke Scott had two hits - including a home run - after ending a franchise-record hitless streak at 41 at-bats with a homer in Friday's 10-3 win."It's great to see a blooper fall for him," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "Then he hit that ball well to center field. It's a confidence issue. As he gains more confidence, you're going to see him hit with more consistency."
Although they pounded out 13 hits Friday, the Rays are batting .220 during a 4-9 stretch. They rank near the bottom of the AL in average (.232) and on-base percentage (.313).
Tampa Bay will try to avoid a fourth loss in five games behind James Shields (8-5, 4.11 ERA), who seeks to win consecutive starts for the first time since early May.
The right-hander pitched at least six innings for the 14th time in 17 outings Tuesday, allowing four runs and 10 hits over seven in a 7-4 victory over the Yankees.
Shields has allowed 24 hits in his past two starts - the most he's ever allowed in a two-game span.
He's posted a 3.83 ERA in eight career starts against the Indians, but has lost five of six decisions while receiving 2.44 runs of support per nine innings.
Cleveland hopes to improve to 6-1 this season in games started by Zach McAllister (3-1, 3.93). The rookie right-hander overcame a throwing error and two home runs in the fifth inning of a 9-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.
He allowed five runs - three earned - and eight hits to win for the second time in as many starts since he was recalled from Triple-A Columbus."He's not afraid," Acta said. "It was good to see a guy like that shake it off."
McAllister has walked one and struck out 14 in his last three starts spanning 18 innings.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|June 30, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right shin|
|June 29, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
|June 20, 2012||Matt Joyce||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|June 17, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Flu|
|June 15, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||15-Day DL||Right shoulder fatigue|
|June 30, 2012||Lonnie Chisenhall||15-Day DL||Fractured right ulna - out 4-6 weeks|
|June 29, 2012||Lonnie Chisenhall||Day-to-Day||Fractured right ulna - out 4-6 weeks|
|June 05, 2012||Jose Lopez||Day-to-Day||Sore lower back|
|May 27, 2012||Jack Hannahan||15-Day DL||Strained left calf|
|May 27, 2012||Jack Hannahan||15-Day DL||Strained left calf|
|May 26, 2012||Carlos Santana||7-Day DL||Concussion|
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Ben Zobrist didn't have time to worry. He just stepped to the plate and delivered the go-ahead run - helping the Tampa Bay Rays to an improbable win.
Zobrist's RBI single capped the Rays' three-run ninth inning against All-Star closer Chris Perez that beat the Cleveland Indians 7-6 Sunday.
"The hits were coming so fast, I didn't have time to think," Zobrist said. "Hitting was so contagious at that point, he threw a pitch and I swung."
Perez (0-2) came in seeking his 25th straight save since blowing a late lead on opening day to Toronto.
But Will Rhymes hit a solo homer with one out and Carlos Pena added an RBI triple to left-center after Elliot Johnson singled to tie it at 6. Then Zobrist delivered.
"That was some win," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It was Rhymes' first home run since 1837 and Carlos has hit probably two balls that way all year."
It was Rhymes' second career homer. The first came in 2010.
"I knew I got it," he said. "I don't hit many, but when I do, I can feel it."
All-Star Fernando Rodney worked the bottom half for his 25th save in 26 chances after Joel Peralta (1-3) gave up a solo homer to Shin-Soo Choo in the eighth that put Cleveland ahead 6-4.
"I started getting loose when Rhymes hit the homer," Rodney said. "I told the guys, `Don't worry, we're going to win this game.'
"This is a big win for a young team, perfect to get us going again."
The Rays earned a four-game series split with their fourth win in 14 games.
Cleveland, second in the AL Central, got three hits apiece from Casey Kotchman and Michael Brantley , but lost for the fourth time in 11 games.
"It's been good so far but obviously, the first day and the last day of the first half stunk," Perez said. "I made some bad pitches and they hit them."
Rodney had problems, too. He got two quick outs in the bottom half before Brantley singled and went to third on a single by Carlos Santana . The right-hander then got Kotchman to bounce into a game-ending forceout at second.
"I just kept throwing strikes, that's all you can do," Rodney said. "No worries."
Kotchman had three RBIs against his former team as Cleveland took a 5-0 lead against starter James Shields .
Indians starter Zach McAllister didn't allow a hit until No. 9 hitter Rhymes' one-out single in the fifth. Luke Scott and Desmond Jennings each had two-run doubles in the sixth, when the Rays scored four unearned runs.
Kotchman had an RBI single in the second, opened the fourth with his eighth homer, and singled home another run in the fifth. The first baseman hit .306 for Tampa Bay a year ago and signed with Cleveland as a free agent in February.
Johnny Damon , who left the Rays to sign with the Indians this spring, tripled to open the third. He scored when Shields threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt. Damon trotted home on the error for a 2-0 lead.
Two outs later, Jason Kipnis doubled. He scored when Travis Hafner then hit a high bouncer that went under third baseman Jeff Keppinger 's glove for another error.
Kipnis singled to start the fifth and later scored on Kotchman's third hit for a 5-0 lead.
All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera 's error opened the door for the Rays in the sixth.
Pena got the Rays' second hit, beating out a slow roller to second with one out. Zobrist followed with a grounder to second baseman Kipnis, whose throw to second was dropped by Cabrera. With two outs, Scott doubled off the right-center wall for two runs.
After McAllister walked Keppinger, Jennings' two-run double to the right-center gap made it 5-4.
Shields gave up 10 hits and four earned runs over seven innings, throwing 121 pitches. It was the third game in a row and fifth time overall that Shields allowed 10 or more hits.
Maddon marveled at Scott, who missed three weeks with a sore back and endured a team-record 0-for-41 slump.
"Through all this, the guy has 42 RBIs," Maddon said of Scott's team-high total.
Maddon said the Rays should not worry about when three-time All-Star Evan Longoria may return from a hamstring injury and believe they are good enough to overcome injuries. Tampa Bay sent 14 players to the disabled list in the first half.
"We have to play better and we can," Maddon said. "We can hit anybody, anywhere, anytime. It is not time to tread water. We have to swim like we're in the Olympics and get after it."
NOTES: The Rays' two errors gave them 71, second-most in the majors to Baltimore. ... Cleveland put LHP Nick Hagadone on its minor-league disqualified list, one day after optioning him to Triple-A Columbus. General manager Chris Antonetti said Hagadone suffered "a self-inflicted injury to his pitching hand" after leaving a game Friday. He won't get paid while on the disqualified list and may require season-ending surgery. ... Jennings, batting .161 in his last 20 games in the leadoff spot, was moved to seventh. ... Maddon said RHP Jeremy Hellickson will pitch the first game after the All-Star break Friday against Boston. All-Star LHP David Price , expected to work in Tuesday's classic, will start Saturday.