CLEVELAND — The Indians entered the All-Star break on a negative note and, ironically enough, they had their two All-Stars to thank.
With a chance to wrap up a four-game series and complete the first half with a victory Sunday at Progressive Field, the Indians fell 7-6 to the Rays, who salvaged a split despite trailing 5-0 after five innings.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Chris Perez — who will represent Cleveland in the All-Star Game on Tuesday — played a major role in the defeat. Cabrera misplayed a pair of balls in the pivotal sixth inning, and Perez blew a save and took the loss after allowing three runs in the ninth.
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Both players left immediately after the game to catch flights to Kansas City for the All-Star festivities and were not available to the media in the clubhouse. But Perez spoke to media relations director Bart Swain after blowing his first save since Opening Day.
“Obviously I would have liked it to continue, but that’s not baseball,” said Perez, who had converted 24 straight saves, the second-longest streak in club history behind Jose Mesa’s 38 straight in 1995. “I made some bad pitches today and they hit them.
“Just going back to the streak, whatever, that’s my job. I’m supposed to do that. I don’t look at it as anything else than that.”
Manager Manny Acta defended his two stars, chalking it up to simply a bad day for both.
“We’ve played (85) games,” Acta said. “We can’t get on these guys for one game. These guys are responsible for where we’re at right now. You can’t expect every single guy to be on top of their game every single day. They have carried us for a lot of games, so when they don’t have a good day, you hang with them.”
The Indians appeared to be headed for an easy win, with Zach McAllister starting the game with five scoreless innings. He allowed one hit — a one-out single from Jeff Keppinger in the fifth.
But things took a turn for the worse from there, with Cabrera contributing heavily.
With one out in the sixth, Cabrera — on the first base side of second because of a defensive shift — made an underhand flip instead of a regular toss on a close play at first base that resulted in an infield single for Carlos Pena. He dropped a throw at second on a fielder’s choice grounder from the following batter, Ben Zobrist, that was ruled an error.
McAllister got another out before allowing a two-run double to Luke Scott. He walked Keppinger, then surrendered another two-run double that left him with four unearned runs on his line.
“It’s part of the game,” McAllister said of the misplays. “As a pitcher, you want to be able to pick up the guys and not let any runs in, but I didn’t do that.”
Even after the sixth-inning debacle, things were on the right side for Cleveland. The Indians led 6-4 after Shin-Soo Choo provided an insurance solo home run in the eighth, and Perez was coming on to close it out.
Perez started with a strikeout before allowing a solo homer to Will Rhymes — the second of his career and first since 2010.
Tampa Bay tied the game on Pena’s triple, with Michael Brantley making an ill-fated diving attempt on a line drive to shallow center field. The Rays won it on a single from Zobrist.
“Obviously, the first day and the last day of the first half sucked, but I’ll definitely take everything in between,” Perez said. “Now I have some more work to do.”
Despite the disappointing finish, Acta was pleased with a 4-3 homestand against the Angels and Rays.
“The homestand didn’t end up the way we wanted, but I’m still pretty happy with how we played at home against two very good ballclubs,” he said.
The second-place Indians, who dealt with injuries to key players Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Carlos Santana and Rafael Perez, have managed to stay in contention in the Central Division, where they trail Chicago by three games.
“I feel good,” Acta said. “I still feel we haven’t played our best baseball. As a team, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”