Rays rally, but can't close in series finale
Archer struggles and three-run eighth goes for naught in the loss
ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Archer's struggles continued on Sunday as the last-place Rays lost for the fifth time in six games on this homestand, 6-5, to the Indians before 23,679 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays again battled back, scoring three times in the the eighth inning and putting the potential tying and winning runs on base. And again they fell short, failing to win more than once on a homestand against two or more opponents for the first time since April 2011.
"It's been the same game, over and over again," said Rays manager Joe Maddon as his players quietly donned wigs, headbands and hippie outfits for their Woodstock-themed road trip to Seattle and Anaheim. "Normally, we win those games at home. We just haven't gotten that walk-off mentality yet.
"We're just coming up a a foot short. We've just been one pitch, one hit away."
In each of their five losses on this homestand, the Rays brought the possible winning run to the plate in the ninth inning.
"We came back, we had opportunities there in the eighth," Maddon said. "And we had the right guys up in the ninth. It's really unusual to get that close, with the right guys up, and not win one or two of them.
"An unusual set of events has been occurring here. If you let yourself get into it, it'll eat you alive. We normally get well here at the Trop. To get well in Yankee Stadium and Fenway, and then to get unwell here at home, that's very strange."
Trailing 6-2, the Rays rallied for three runs in the eighth inning. With runners on first and third and one away, James Loney bounced back to Indians pitcher Marc Rzepczynski for what could have been an inning-ending double play.
But Rzepczynski's throw to second was wide, allowing Ben Zobrist to score and keeping the rally alive. Wil Myers made it 6-4 with a single to right.
"It's no time to get panicky," Maddon said. "If we weren't playing hard, I'd be concerned. But I don't see a lack of fight. When things don't go well, you see the superficial reasons why, but you've got to look under the hood. We see so many good things going on. We're just not winning games. As long as we keep playing as hard as we can it's going to come back to us."
The Rays loaded the bases with one away when reliever Cody Allen hit Desmond Jennings on his left hand with a pitch, and Yunel Escobar lifted a sacrifice fly to right to cut the margin to one.
The Indians had runners on base in every inning against Archer, chasing him in the sixth when Yan Gomes led off with a home run to increase the Indians' lead to 4-2.
"I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't a little bit stressed out," said Evan Longoria, who had two of the Rays' nine hits on Sunday. "I don't think we're playing bad games. I think we're playing the game the right way. We're just getting beat. It seems like the last couple games it's just been too little too late.
"The good thing is, I believe everybody in here believes that we're a team that is capable of winning. We're a playoff caliber team."
Since 2013, the Rays are 15-2 when Archer, who originally signed with the Indians, goes at least six innings and 3-11 when he doesn't. Sunday's loss was Archer's first at the Trop since Aug. 13, 2013, eight starts ago.
Much of Archer's success during his first two seasons in the Major Leagues came because of his ability to get right-handed hitters out, holding them to a .173 average. Much of Archer's struggles this year, however, have come because of the success right-handed hitters, such as Gomes, have enjoyed against him. Going into Sunday's game, righties were hitting .364 against him.
"It's not about stuff, it's a matter of execution," Maddon said. "It's a matter of learning to put hitters away when he has to. To me, he is a young pitcher who is going to keep getting better."
"I've been working my whole career to be consistent," Archer said. "I'm having a tough stretch of games right now, but it's not going to derail the effort. The tide is going to turn for me. This is all temporary. I'm going to be fine."
The Indians looked to jump ahead in the opening inning when Michael Brantley, who had walked, tried to score from first on Carlos Santana's double off the wall in right. But a sliding Brantley was cut down at the plate on a perfect relay from Myers to Zobrist to Jose Molina, and a swipe tag by Molina. Matt Joyce homered for the third time this season with two gone in the bottom of the first to stake Archer to a brief 1-0 lead.
The Indians continued to play aggressive baseball, tying the score in the second when Asdrubal Cabrera walked, advanced to third on Gomes' single, and raced across the plate on Nyjer Morgan's little check-swing grounder down the third-base line that refused to roll foul.
Michael Bourn followed with a two-out double to right, just out of the reach of Myers, that drove two more runs home. Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin had retired seven Rays in a row before Zobrist led off the fourth with a double and scored on Joyce's single, cutting the Indians' advantage to 3-2. Brad Boxberger replaced Archer in the sixth and immediately surrendered another run as Morgan reached first thanks to Indians manager Terry Francona's challenge, was balked to second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Mike Aviles' sacrifice fly.
Morgan homered -- his first since 2012 -- off Brandon Gomes to begin the eighth.
Jennings, who got hit on the hand in the eighth but stayed in the game, is day to day.
"I'm sure he is going to be sore, that ball hit him pretty hard," Maddon said. "We'll see how he is on Monday, if he's able to play."