But Huff's problems came soon after. He was tagged for seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings, sending the Indians down the path to a 7-5 loss that will be remembered more for its controversial moments than anything else.
That's probably fine with Huff, who turned in a debut he'd like to forget. He gave up the seven runs on seven hits with four walks and two strikeouts and simply didn't have the command that has made him so successful in the Minors.
"He was erratic," manager Eric Wedge said. "You could tell he was a little nervous early on. I don't think we saw his 'A' game today. I think he was just fighting to control the baseball with most of his pitches. It still stems off the fastball command, and it was tight up there today."
The Indians, despite two homers from Ben Francisco off Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine, could not fully recover from Huff's rough patch.
Huff's trouble began when he walked leadoff man B.J. Upton in the first. Upton swiped second and came in to score on a Carl Crawford single.
Francisco's first homer -- a three-run shot in the second -- wiped away that early deficit and put the Tribe ahead, 3-1. But the Rays quickly responded in the bottom of the inning, when Jason Bartlett tripled and scored on a Gabe Kapler groundout.
In the fourth, the Rays took the lead for good, and even Sonnanstine got in on the action.
After Zobrist led off with a triple, Bartlett came through with an RBI single. The Rays went on to load the bases, setting up Michel Hernandez's bases-clearing double. Two outs later, adding insult to ineffectiveness, Huff surrendered an RBI double to Sonnanstine.
At least Huff could take solace in the fact that Sonnanstine came in 4-for-10 in his career at the plate. He's actually a pretty good hitter.
"Coming up, we all were athletes and two-way guys," Huff said. "Obviously it's been a while for him to hit. But I left him a pitch down the middle, and he couldn't have asked for anything better. He definitely got all over it."
Huff didn't make it out of that fourth inning, and the Indians went to bat in the fifth in a 7-3 hole. Francisco did what he could to lessen the damage when he took Sonnanstine deep again, this time with a solo blast, but after a Victor Martinez RBI groundout, that was the last of the scoring.
Francisco could get used to facing Sonnanstine. He is now 6-for-7 off him with four homers, a double and a walk.
"I guess I was seeing the ball pretty good," Francisco said. "He made a couple mistakes, and I made him pay."
The Indians, who got strong relief work from Greg Aquino and Matt Herges to remain in the game, paid for a mistake by the umpiring crew in the eighth, when Ryan Garko's apparent double was ruled an out.
The high fly to left hit the top of the padded portion of the wall and bounced back into left fielder Carl Crawford's hand. The umpires ruled that the ball hit Crawford's glove before bouncing into his hand, resulting in an out, but replays showed otherwise.
Wedge argued the call, to no avail, and the Indians lost an important scoring opportunity.
"It's too bad, because you get the tying run at the plate right there, and [Martinez] is getting an at-bat in the ninth, for sure," Garko said. "So it hurts. Sometimes you get lucky and the umpires give you one when you don't deserve it. And sometimes it goes the other way. It all evens out."
The Indians were hoping to even out this four-game set in the finale, but the loss was their third straight in an increasingly frustrating season. They had a chance to let some emotion flow in the bottom of the eighth, when both benches cleared as a result of Kerry Wood throwing one pitch behind Upton's back and another at his knees. But the end result was unavoidable.
"I felt like we had a good chance to win this series," Wood said. "We had our opportunities. We were up and couldn't hold the lead. We should have won a series, and now we're 1-3. So it's frustrating, and it's been frustrating for a while. I don't think it can get a whole lot more frustrating than where we're at right now. At least I hope not."