The Indians could relate.
With little going right for the home team, Cleveland dropped the rubber match of a three-game series against the Rays, who left town on the heels of an 11-3 thrashing of their hosts.
The Indians got a brief and ineffective outing from starting pitcher Zach McAllister, one inning of offense and another shoddy effort from their bullpen. Capping it all off was the ejection of manager Terry Francona in the fifth inning.
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“They played a perfect song at the end,” third baseman Mark Reynolds said of the Shirelles’ “Mama Said.” “We’re in a tough stretch right now, but there’s no panic or anything like that. We’re right in this thing.”
Even with the loss, Cleveland is a half-game behind first-place Detroit in the Central Division standings, but with an upcoming nine-game road swing that pits the Indians against American League heavyweights New York, Detroit and Texas.
They hit the road with little momentum after a lethargic loss in which their manager was in his office for the final four innings after drawing his first ejection with the Indians and the 35th of his career.
Francona and his team had issues with home plate umpire Bill Welke’s strike zone for much of the day, with it finally boiling over on a called strike to Nick Swisher with Cleveland trailing 5-3 with two on and one out in the fifth.
“I just thought he was inconsistent,” Francona said. “I told Bill that I went back and looked at some of the pitches, and I told him, ‘I feel stronger now than I did when I was yelling at you from the dugout.’”
McAllister, who outside of ace Justin Masterson had been the Indians’ most consistent starter, was gone before Francona. McAllister worked just 4⅓ innings and allowing five runs — four earned — on seven hits and four walks.
The subpar outing snapped a string of 12 straight starts in which the right-hander had pitched at least five innings, while allowing three earned runs or fewer.
“It just seemed like it was kind of a labor all day (for him),” Francona said. “He had to work for everything.”
McAllister (4-5, 3.43 ERA) also appeared at odds with Welke’s zone. He met with the veteran umpire on the field after finishing the top of the third, an inning in which he threw a close two-strike, two-out pitch to Evan Longoria before Tampa Bay’s third baseman delivered an RBI single that put his team in front 3-0.
“I was just asking him where a couple pitches were,” McAllister said. “It’s part of the game. You’re not going to get the call all the time and sometimes you get calls you shouldn’t have. You just have to roll with it.”
The Indians showed some fight in the third inning, with four straight hits from Reynolds, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles leading to their only runs of the game and a one-run deficit.
But another shoddy effort from the bullpen knocked them out.
Cleveland relievers Nick Hagadone and Rich Hill combined to allow five runs, with Hagadone’s two runs coming on a home run from No. 9 hitter Yunel Escobar. Hill surrendered three runs on three hits over just ⅔ of an inning. Both pitchers throw from the left side — a scuffling entity of Cleveland’s bullpen all season.
The Indians have little time to lick their wounds, opening a three-game series at Yankee Stadium tonight followed by three-game trips to division leaders Detroit and Texas.
“We play the Yankees (tonight), so that’s where our focus will be,” Francona said. “Other than packing and making sure you have enough underwear, there’s no reason to look at Texas’ lineup. We need to be prepared for (tonight).”
Left fielder Michael Brantley took a different approach to the stiff test away from home.
“Let’s go,” Brantley said. “It’s time to see where we’re at.”