Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash is excited about how his team is playing. The only thing missing for the Rays: a clear path to the playoffs.
Rookie Brandon Lowe homered and drove in three runs, and the Rays hung on in the ninth inning to defeat the Cleveland Indians 6-4 on Sunday, taking two of three from the AL Central leaders.
The Rays have won 11 of 13 and are a season-high 10 games over .500 (73-63). The stretch includes a three-game sweep over Boston and splitting two games with Atlanta.
"Right now I don't think you could ask for much more," Cash said. "The guys, we talk about how they come to the ballpark prepared every single day. The effort's there every single day."
Although moving into postseason contention is a long shot - Tampa Bay trails Oakland by eight games for the second wild card spot in the AL - Cash is pleased with how his team is progressing.
"We gotta have a lot of things go our way," he said. "I couldn't be more impressed and excited about how this team has played here recently and looking forward to how they'll continue to play for the month of September."
The Rays have pioneered the use of a reliever to open games before moving to a more conventional starting pitcher in the early innings.
"The guys they pitch are really good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Cashie is doing a really good job with their pitching. You can tell he's having fun with it."
Ryan Yarbrough, another rookie, allowed one run in five-plus innings of relief for opener Diego Castillo, who was removed after Yandy Diaz's leadoff single in the second.
Yarbrough (13-5), who earned his major league-leading 11th relief win, was pulled after Jose Ramirez's RBI single in the seventh.
"I know they're a really aggressive team and for me it's been lately, just a matter of attacking the strike zone and mixing speeds," Yarbrough said.
Adam Kolarek pitched two scoreless innings before Cleveland made it closer in the ninth.
Francisco Lindor singled off Hunter Wood to lead off the ninth. Jose Ramirez drew a one-out walk and Diaz had an RBI single. Jose Alvarado replaced Wood and struck out Yonder Alonso, but Melky Cabrera's two-run double cut the lead to two.
Alvarado struck out Jason Kipnis for his seventh save in 10 opportunities.
Lowe homered to lead off the second and added a two-run double in the seventh for his first-ever three-hit game.
Carlos Carrasco (16-7) allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings and lost for the third time in his last 11 decisions.
Carrasco appeared to wince after throwing a pitch to Jake Bauers in the fourth. Several infielders talked with him on the mound and were soon joined by Francona and a team trainer. Carrasco remained in the game and said that he was taking extra time between pitches.
C.J. Cron began the fourth with his team-leading 26th homer. Joey Wendle, who made two outstanding plays at third base in the sixth, had an RBI double in the seventh that was followed by Tommy Pham's run-scoring triple.
Wendle charged Greg Allen's slow roller and threw the speedy center fielder out at first. Lindor followed with a grounder, and Wendle made a diving stop and threw him out to end the inning.
SCOOTER UNDER FIRE
Francona and Cash have been close friends for several years, which has led to a series of pranks between the two. Prior to Friday's series opener, Francona had the scoreboard operators at Progressive Field post Cash's career batting numbers, including a .183 average, under the headline, "How Bad is Kevin Cash at the Plate?"
Cash got his revenge before Sunday's game by stealing the scooter Francona rides from his downtown apartment to the ballpark every day. Cash rode the scooter on the field and it was placed between second and third base as the Rays took batting practice. The scooter was hit by a couple of line drives before an Indians clubhouse worker drove it to safety.
The chair Francona sits on in the dugout mysteriously showed up in the Rays dugout before Friday's game. Cash was a suspect, but it appears an Indians pitcher was responsible.
Cash played for Boston when Francona managed the Red Sox and was on Cleveland's coaching staff for two seasons before taking the job in Tampa Bay. The practical jokes will surely continue when the Indians are in Tampa next week.
Rays: CF Kevin Kiermaier (back spasms) was out of the lineup after leaving Saturday's game in the seventh.
Indians: LHP Andrew Miller (sore shoulder) threw up to 75 feet off flat ground Sunday. Miller, who has also dealt with hamstring and knee injuries, is on the disabled list for the third time this season.
Rays: Tampa Bay opens a three-game series at Toronto on Monday. Cash didn't announce the starting pitcher, but RHP Ryne Stanek (2-3, 2.77 ERA) appears to be the leading candidate.
Indians: RHP Adam Plutko (4-4, 4.94 ERA) will pitch the opener of a three-game series Monday against Kansas City. RHP Jakob Junis (7-12, 4.53) will start for the Royals.
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