Fleet-footed Rays make quiet bats pay

Fleet-footed Rays make quiet bats pay

ST. PETERSBURG -- Speed kills. Especially when it has an accomplice.

In the Indians' 4-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field on Saturday, Tampa Bay's speed on the basepaths led Cleveland to its demise, but only because the Tribe bats didn't do much to counter that quickness.

Carl Pavano turned in an effective, it not lengthy, outing, but a double steal by Gabe Gross and Akinori Iwamura in the fifth inning put the Rays in position to score the runs that made the difference in this ballgame.

"The double steal killed me," said Pavano, who saw his personal three-game winning streak come to an end. "You can't stop them from running. All you can do is do the things we've been taught -- mixing up looks, holding the ball longer. Hopefully, you give your catcher enough time to throw."

Pavano's offense didn't give him much of a chance. The Indians made Rays right-hander Matt Garza work for six innings in which he threw 120 pitches, but all Cleveland had to show for it was a pair of run on five hits with four walks and three strikeouts.

Perhaps exhausted from their 11- and seven-run outputs in the first two games of this series, the Indians left runners on the corners against Garza in the third and left the bases loaded in the fourth.

"Offensively, we just missed opportunities," manager Eric Wedge said. "[Garza] really battled, but we stuck our nose in there and just didn't take advantage of opportunities."

So when Pavano served up a leadoff homer to B.J. Upton in the fourth, it seemed a major blow. And it was very nearly a foul ball, as Upton's liner snuck just inside the left-field foul pole.

"He couldn't have hit it in a better spot," Pavano said. "A couple inches to the left, and it's foul."

But what really did Pavano in was the Rays' fifth. It started out poorly for Pavano when he walked the leadoff hitter, Gross.

"Leadoff walks always kill you," Pavano said. "I don't know how many times I've learned that. I try to stay away from it."

After Iwamura singled, the Rays had two on, and they got aggressive. With Jason Bartlett at the plate, the runners took off and safely swiped their targets to put a pair in scoring position. It was Tampa Bay's second double-steal of the series and part of an ongoing trend with this tricky club.

Tampa Bay has stolen at least one base in 18 straight games and 65 for the season -- putting them on pace for 277, which would be the most stolen bases by a club since the 1984 Cardinals swiped 314.

The Indians, then, are merely the latest victims.

"They have tons of speed," Wedge said. "You just have to be in the best position to throw somebody out when it happens. That's why we try so hard to limit attempts."

Bartlett capitalized on the double steal, lining a single to center to score both runners and make it 3-0.

"If they're not on second and third," Pavano said, "there's a good chance the ball Bartlett hit is a double-play ball, because we would have been playing up the middle."

In the sixth, the Tribe got on the board when Victor Martinez and Shin-Soo Choo singled and Jhonny Peralta followed with an RBI double down the first-base line. David Dellucci's sacrifice fly made it 3-2.

But that was it for the offense in this one. Garza left after the sixth, and his bullpen -- consisting of Brian Shouse in the seventh, Grant Balfour in the eighth and Joe Nelson in the ninth -- shut the door.

The Indians certainly would have liked to see Pavano go deeper into the game, given the state of their beleaguered bullpen, but left-hander Aaron Laffey came out to turn in three solid innings of work in which he was touched only by Ben Zobrist's insurance RBI double in the eighth.

"Both of those guys gave us every opportunity to win the ballgame," Wedge said of Pavano and Laffey.

But speed and the quiet lumber killed the Tribe.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.