After the Rays enjoyed a seven-game winning streak that built their lead in the American League East to five games on July 6, they gave it all back, culminating with a 5-2 loss to the Indians on Sunday afternoon in front of 29,700 at Progressive Field.
In taking its seventh consecutive loss, Tampa Bay fell from first place for the first time since June 28, as Boston won Sunday to swoop into the top spot in the division by a half game at the All-Star break.
The Rays are now 0-12 at Progressive Field under manager Joe Maddon, and they have lost 13 consecutive games at the enemy port dating back to Lou Piniella's tenure managing the Rays.
"I'm really getting to where I do not like Cleveland," Maddon said. "Based on what happened here last year, [plus this series]. I know they have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the lake, I know the Browns are a great football team, but I'm not liking Cleveland right now."
Tampa Bay's offense continued to be mired in its worst slump of the season despite the inconsistency of Indians starter Jeremy Sowers, who walked the bases full in the second before issuing a free pass to Akinori Iwamura to force home the game's first run. Shawn Riggans added an RBI single in the third to put Tampa Bay out front, 2-0, but that would be all the offense it would get.
The Rays could not inflict further damage to Sowers despite the lefty walking a career-high seven batters during his four-inning stint, which was cut short largely due to the fact he struck out eight, also a career high.
"I guess you could say [Sowers] was effectively wild," Evan Longoria said. "I mean, we made him throw a lot of pitches and we got him into good situations where we had opportunities to score runs. But that's just the way things are going. ... You can't win games like that. We got him in some situations where we could have taken advantage, and we didn't."
Scott Kazmir started for the Rays, and the Indians got something going in the third against the left-hander when Ben Francisco singled home their first run and Jhonny Peralta's sacrifice fly scored another to tie the game at 2.
Peralta's two-out home run in the fifth gave the Indians a 4-2 lead. Andy Marte then connected for a solo shot in the sixth for his first home run since April 4, 2007, to put the Indians up, 5-2. The advantage proved more than enough of a lead, since the last 17 Rays hitters were retired in order and Indians pitchers struck out 14 on the day.
"[We had] a lot of strikeouts. We punched out way too many times," Maddon said. "We have to do a better job on the road. Obviously, this is six losses in a row on the road. We just have to do a better job on the road. We're two different teams [at home and on the road]."
After Thursday night's loss to the Indians, Maddon expressed confidence the Rays could snap out of their funk with James Shields, Matt Garza and Kazmir pitching the next three games. But the troika of talented young arms surrendered a combined 17 runs on 29 hits in 17 innings to each get stamped with a loss.
"We couldn't have set the weekend up any better pitching-wise," Maddon said. "We totally massacred our seven-game winning streak. Again, these things happen, and I do feel good about that group. I will always feel good about that group."
Kazmir said it wasn't a matter of the Indians being hot, rather the Rays getting them hot.
"I was watching the game on TV at the beginning of the series, and it's not like these guys were really on fire," said Kazmir alluding to the fact the Indians had lost 10 straight heading into the series. "We just gave them a lot of opportunities early on in the series, and they took advantage of it. They really put it to us, I'll tell you that. All around, it was just an ugly series."
Despite the disappointment of losing the last seven games before the All-Star break, the Rays can take solace in the fact they go to the break 16 games over .500.
"We're still right where we want to be," Longoria said. "We're a half a game back at the break. More than half of the games are done. We just have to get our minds right and get back to doing what we were doing before."
Kazmir also took a moment to reflect on what the Rays have done to this point in the season.
"It has been a great first half," Kazmir said. "There are going to be times like this in the season where we're going to go through a bump, a slow stage. We've just got to be able to bounce back. Today, we were looking to do that, but it didn't happen. This next half, we have to put it behind us and get us back on track."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.