Rays’ Snell earns 17th win as Tampa Bay beats Indians 5-3

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              Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — Blake Snell has put himself in the middle of the race for the AL Cy Young Award.

Snell moved into a tie for the major league lead with his 17th win as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Cleveland Indians 5-3 on Saturday night.

Snell (17-5) is tied with New York’s Luis Severino and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber — two other top candidates for the award — for the most wins in the majors. Snell is 5-0 in his last six starts and his 2.02 ERA is second in the AL behind Chris Sale’s 1.97.

Snell allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings, giving up both in the second with one being unearned thanks to a throwing error by third baseman Matt Duffy. The left-hander worked around trouble early but retired nine of the last 10 hitters he faced and struck out the side in the sixth.

“We always talk about what his best start is, this and that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You can argue that was his best start because he didn’t have anything. He didn’t cruise by any means. He had to work. But that was a pretty telling performance from Blake and how far he’s come.”

Snell said his stuff improved as the night progressed.

“I started slow, frustrated about that,” Snell said. “But I’m very happy with how I came back, fastball started to jump there towards the end, slider, everything started to work a lot better.”

The Indians had nine baserunners in the first four innings, including stealing three bases in the first.

“We had some really good at-bats early just to get what we did,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “His stuff is phenomenal. Velocity, breaking ball, changeup. He’s got the whole package.”

Tampa Bay scored four times in the sixth off Shane Bieber (8-3). Matt Duffy tied the game with a two-run double. Tommy Pham’s RBI double put the Rays ahead before Kevin Kiermaier added a run-scoring single.

Brandon Lowe homered off the foul pole in right field to in the ninth.

Jason Kipnis, whose playing time will decrease after the Indians acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson from Toronto on Friday, started the ninth with a pinch-hit home run off Chaz Roe.

Roe retired the next two hitters and Adam Kolarek got pinch-hitter Yonder Alonso for his second save. The Rays have won 10 of 12.

Duffy’s two-base error on Brandon Guyer’s ground ball started Cleveland’s rally in the second. Melky Cabrera and Yan Gomes drove in runs with back-to-back doubles. Snell retired the next two hitters before Michael Brantley singled to center. Gomes was waved home, but was an easy out at the plate on Kiermaier’s throw.

“It was big,” Cash said. “Not that we can’t come back from three runs, but there’s a big difference between three and two runs.”

Cleveland’s lead quickly disappeared in the sixth. Lowe singled and took third on Joey Wendle’s double. Duffy’s double down the right field line tied the game. Pham’s one-out double to left-center gave Tampa Bay the lead and finished Bieber.

Kiermaier’s single off Tyler Olson scored Pham, with the run charged to Bieber. The rookie right-hander allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings.

TRADE FALLOUT

Donaldson arrived at the ballpark shortly before game time after having flight issues that delayed him. The 2015 AL MVP was given a loud ovation and waved to the crowd when he was shown from the dugout on the scoreboard in the seventh inning.

Donaldson has been sidelined for three months by a strained calf and it’s not clear when he’ll make his Indians debut. Donaldson will play third base with All-Star Jose Ramirez moving to second.

Francona said Kipnis will be affected more than any player on Cleveland’s roster by Donaldson’s addition.

“Nobody will ever root against him, I can promise you that,” Francona said. “Getting Donaldson is good for us, and I don’t know where Kip ends up, but I guarantee every time he hits I’ll be pulling for him like I always do. He can help us. We don’t think otherwise.”

TAKING A SHOT

Indians left-hander Oliver Perez remained in the game after being hit on his pitching hand by Lowe’s comebacker in the sixth. Perez threw a couple of warmup pitches and joked with his teammates before play continued.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: Kiermaier was removed the game in the seventh inning after his back tightened up when he threw Gomes out at the plate. He expects to play in Sunday’s series finale.

Indians: Francona said additional tests on the stress fracture in Trevor Bauer’s right leg showed minimal improvement, a diagnosis the team was expecting. Bauer was hit by a line drive on Aug. 11. The team is still hopeful he’ll return before the regular season ends.

UP NEXT

Indians RHP Carlos Carrasco (16-7, 3.38 ERA), who is 8-2 in his last 11 starts, will start the series finale on Sunday. RHP Diego Castillo (3-2, 3.73) will start for the Rays.